John Templeton Foundation: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: The John Templeton Foundation supports innovative projects at renowned universities around the world. The foundation views itself as "investors, not just donors.” 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 – should not go unnoticed. The foundation also frequently supports scholars early on in their careers.

PROFILE: The John Templeton Foundation, established in 1987, 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.

Templeton provides research grants to universities through the following programs:

Science and the Big Questions is the biggest of the foundation’s programs. Templeton has a very inter-disciplinary philosophy, which means it generally prioritizes scientific approaches to humanistic questions. It is 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 fall into four categories: Public Engagement, Natural Sciences, Philosophy and Theology, and Human Sciences.

Character Virtue Development supports research into “identification of relevant precursors, correlates, developmental trajectories, and the assessment of potential inter-individual differences. We also provide support to organizations such as schools, religious institutions, and community organizations to develop, implement, and evaluate applied and translational research on character and virtue.”

Individual Freedom and Markets supports “education, research, and grassroots efforts to promote individual freedom, free markets, free competition, and entrepreneurship.”

Exceptional Cognitive Talent and Genius “supports research concerning the nature of cognitive genius, including extraordinary creativity, curiosity, and imagination,” as well as programs that “aim to recognize and nurture exceptional cognitive talent, especially for those at an early stage of life.”

Genetics “seeks to advance genetics research by supporting novel approaches and contrarian projects, especially research that is undervalued by traditional funding sources.”

Voluntary Family Planning “supports research, programs, and policy development efforts around the world that seek to better understand factors that influence family planning decisions, provide information on and access to family planning methods, and strengthen policy related to effective family planning.” In the recent past, this program generally prioritizes projects located in or concerned with Africa.

Grants range from $40,000 to $3 million. Details about the foundation’s giving are laid out in its grants database. The foundation has different procedures for small and large grants (under or over $234,800). 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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