What's a Czech Priest Going to Do With His $1.8 Million Templeton Prize?

The Templeton Prize has got to be one of the vaguest philanthropic prizes around. It's given out annually for "progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities." We'd love to see the metric for measuring that. Indeed, though, it's exactly the fuzziness of the Templeton Prize that makes it so cool—enough with the metrics already. It's great when funders give big money to deep thinkers. 

This year's winner of the Templeton Prize is Tomas Halik, a Czech priest. He told a Prague newspaper he plans to put the $1.83 million prize toward "activities related to the dialogue between churches and between believers and non-believers."

Now there's a cause that you don't see many funders get behind. And, as we'll explain in a minute, Templeton is funding other efforts along the same lines. 

Halik studied philosophy at Charles University of Prague and English at the University of North Wales. In 1972, the year he received his doctorate, the Czech communist regime identified Halik as a seditious threat and banned him from teaching at all of the country's state schools. The regime also forbade him from traveling to any country that did not sign the Warsaw Pact.

Undiscouraged in his faith, Halik pursued his theological studies by way of underground lectures on western and religious thought. He became a psychotherapist by day and treated people with substance abuse issues throughout the '70s and '80s. An East German bishop who belonged to the same cabal of undercover clergymen as Halik privately ordained him 1978. Not even Halik's own mother knew about it, according toReuters' blog.

After the Czech communist regime fell in 1989, Halik worked under the Pope, founded the multi-denominational Czech Christian Academy and served as an advisor to newly elected Czech president Václav Havel. Halik is also a priest of Prague's Academic Parish.

Within a week of when Templeton announced the 2014 prize to Halik, Notre Dame University's newspaper publicized a $1.58 million grant from the foundation to two researchers at the school's Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). Similar to the manner in which Halik intends to dispose of his award money, the Notre Dame grant will bring together scientific and religious research. 

Before that, one of the largest grants from the foundation on record was an $8 million gift in September of 2013 to University of Michigan to conduct an investigation on whether or not spiritual beliefs correlate to good health.