Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town who rose to international fame as he helped lead the fight against apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, was named the 2013 Templeton Prize winner Thursday.
The honor, which comes with a $1.7 million award, is given annually by the West Conshohocken, Penn.-based John Templeton Foundation. It has, in recent years, been awarded to academics who work at the nexus of religion and science.
Tutu is being awarded for his promotion of what the foundation calls "spiritual progress," including love, forgiveness and human liberation, especially after the fall of apartheid when he chaired South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission addressed tensions between perpetrators of the apartheid state and reformers, and granted amnesty on both sides to hundreds of requests out of thousands that were submitted. It is considered key to the nation's democratic transition in the 1990s.
“When you are in a crowd and you stand out from the crowd it’s usually because you are being carried on the shoulders of others,” Tutu said in response to receiving the prize in a video on the Templeton website. "I want to acknowledge all the wonderful people who accepted me as their leader at home and so to accept this prize, as it were, in a representative capacity.”
Tutu, 81, has not said what he will do with the award money, although past winners have used it for charitable causes.
Giving the annual award to a man whose life's work has revolved around fighting racism, poverty and government corruption continues a shift that began last year when it was given to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. That award marked the first time in more than a decade that the Templeton Prize was given to an international spiritual and political figure that was a household name, rather than a lesser-known theologian or physicist. The award also has been given to the Rev. Billy Graham and Mother Teresa, its first recipient in 1973.
While the Dalai Lama is best known for his message of peace and nonviolence, he was honored by the foundation for his advocacy of studying the relationship between science and spirituality, including quantum mechanics and astrophysics.
Ahead of formally accepting the award in London on May 21, the foundation released a series of videos about the prize, including one in which its chairman and president, John S. Templeton, Jr., explains why it chose Tutu.
“By embracing such universal concepts of the image of God within each person, Desmond Tutu also demonstrates how the innate humanity within each of us is intrinsically tied to the humanity between all peoples,” Templeton says in the video. “Desmond Tutu calls upon all of us to recognize that each and every human being is unique in all of history and, in doing so, to embrace our own vast potential to be agents for spiritual progress and positive change. Not only does he teach this idea, he lives it.”
The prize, which was created by the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, is not without its critics. When it was given to British cosmologist Martin Rees in 2011, for example, Jerry Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, wrote that the foundation "plies its enormous wealth with a single aim: to give credibility to religion by blurring its well-demarcated border with science."
The foundation, whose website describes the prize as celebrating "no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather the quest for progress in humanity's efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine," has rebuffed such accusations.
Wise Sayings From The 2012 Templeton Prize Winner