John Templeton Foundation: Grants for Higher Education Humanities

OVERVIEW: The John Templeton Foundation is a major supporter of innovative projects at renowned universities around the world, and they fund programs in five major areas. The foundation views itself as "investors, not just donors.” That philosophy is evident in the foundation’s grant-making, as they fund well-developed projects at renowned universities. The largest Templeton program for university researchers is called “Science and the Big Questions,” through which researchers regularly earn support for projects in diverse fields including philosophy, theology, human sciences and cross-disciplinary science approaches.  

IP TAKE: Small-scale, start-up projects face fierce competition from nationally and internationally recognized scholars, but the John Templeton Foundation’s support of the humanities – particularly philosophy and theology – shouldn’t go unnoticed. The foundation is also fond of supporting scholars early on in their careers.

PROFILE: The John Templeton foundation describes itself as “a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.” It further explains that its motto, “'How little we know, how eager to learn,' exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.” Its endowment is significant, reported at close to $3.5 billion and about $100 million in total awards in a recent year.

The humanities include many different areas of the social sciences, art and culture. In a way, the Templeton Foundation’s grant-making has served to bridge these varied disciplines to develop new ways of thinking. For instance, one tenet of the foundation’s grant-making philosophy includes funding projects that “cross disciplinary boundaries.” 

The most important program for humanities fundraisers is called Science and the Big Questions. It’s the foundation’s largest program, and provides major support for research “about the ‘basic forces, concepts, and realities’ governing the universe and humankind's place in the universe.” Grants from the program are divvied up in five areas: Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Human Sciences, Philosophy and Theology, and Science in Dialogue. University researchers have historically received the majority of grants from the Big Questions program. 

Past awards are sizeable, with an average award of $1 million. Details about the foundation’s giving are laid out in detail in its grants database.

Spirituality does play a strong role in the foundation’s strategy, and that’s been a source of controversy for some philosophers (this Chronicle of Higher Education discussion that looks at some of the opinions). But overall, there are plenty of projects that aren’t necessarily spirituality focused.

The foundation’s grant process is fairly accessible open. Each year, Templeton offers open grant inquiry periods, which are conducted online. Additional information is also available here regarding funding competitions.

Note that the foundation is open to initial inquiries only, and that full proposals are invite-only after an initial proposal has been reviewed. Competition is strong for Templeton grants, but early-career applicants, fear not: the foundation has a stated desire “to get involved early enough in people’s careers that we can make a big difference in their work and allow them to realize their fullest potential.”


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