Jane Goodall wins 2021 Templeton Prize for harnessing science and the spiritual dimension

(Photo: Courtesy John Templeton Foundation/Jane Goodall Institute)British primatologist Jane Goodall winner of the receives 2021 Templeton Prize.

Dr. Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace and world-renowned ethologist and conservationist, whose discoveries changed humanity’s understanding of its role in the natural world, is the winner of the 2021 Templeton Prize.

British-born Goodall joins past laureates Mother Teresa and Francis Collins as the first female ethologist to win the Templeton Prize, valued at over $1.5 million, is one of the world’s largest annual individual awards, the John Templeton Foundation said May 20.

Goodall is the first ethologist and the fourth woman to receive the Templeton Prize since its inception in 1972 and she is known worldwide for her groundbreaking scientific work studying chimpanzee society, which began in Africa in 1960.

Established by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the foundation says the prize is given to honor those who harness the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.

As a girl, growing up in England, Goodall fell in love with the natural world and particularly with animals. Aged 26, before she had a college degree yet, she went to Tanzania’s Gombe National Forest and began training on the life and ecosystem of the chimpanzee, humans’ closest living relatives.

She later went on to earn a doctorate from Cambridge University.

Goodall was the first to observe that chimpanzees engaged in activities, such as creating tools, which were previously believed to be exclusive to humans.

She also proved that they have individual personality, forethought, and complex societies, much like human beings.

Through her observations, Goodall showed that under certain circumstances they wage war and also, like us, show compassion.

“Most importantly, throughout her career, Dr. Goodall has championed the value of all life forms on Earth, changing both scientific practice and the culture at large,” said the Templeton Foundation.

She was raised a Christian. Goodall developed her own sense of spirituality in Tanzania’s forests, and has described her interactions with chimpanzees as reflecting the divine intelligence she believes lies at the heart of nature.

“My grandfather was a Congregationalist minister. We have the Congregational church in Bournemouth that is very open-minded and very inclusive. We weren’t a particularly religious family. We went to church sometimes,” Goodall said in an interview with Religion News Service.

“But when I was 16, I fell passionately and platonically in love with the minister of the church, who was Welsh. Religion entered into me. It felt like I had a secret understanding of something other people perhaps didn’t share. But I had no compulsion to share it,”


In her bestselling memoir, A Reason for Hope, these observations reinforced her personal belief system—that all living things and the natural world they inhabit are connected and that the connective energy is a divine force transcending good and evil.

The prize rewards her unrelenting effort to connect humanity to a greater purpose and is the largest single award that Dr. Goodall has ever received said the foundation.

“Her achievements go beyond the traditional parameters of scientific research to define our perception of what it means to be human,” said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation.

“Her discoveries have profoundly altered the world’s view of animal intelligence and enriched our understanding of humanity in a way that is both humbling and exalting.

“Ultimately, her work exemplifies the kind of humility, spiritual curiosity, and discovery that my grandfather, John Templeton, wrote and spoke about during his life.”

Goodall joins a list of 50 Prize recipients including St. Teresa of Kolkata (the inaugural award in 1973), the Dalai Lama (2012), and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2013).

Last year’s Templeton Prize went to U.S. geneticist and physician Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health and leader of the Human Genome Project, for his demonstration of how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research.

Other scientists who have won the Prize include Martin Rees (2011), John Barrow (2006), George Ellis (2004), Freeman Dyson (2000), and Paul Davies (1995).

“I have learned more about the two sides of human nature, and I am convinced that there are more good than bad people,” said Dr. Jane Goodall, in her acceptance statement for the Templeton Prize.

“There are so many tackling seemingly impossible tasks and succeeding. Only when head and heart work in harmony can we attain our true human potential,” Goodall said.

She said she identifies with the motto that John Templeton chose for his foundation, How little we know, how eager to learn, “and I am eternally thankful that my curiosity and desire to learn is as strong as it was when I was a child,” she added.

“I understand that the deep mysteries of life are forever beyond scientific knowledge and ‘now we see through a glass darkly; then face to face.’”



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