John Templeton Foundation: Grants for Science Education

Templeton Rewrite

OVERVIEW: Templeton’s grantmaking activities focus heavily on research, but it also makes many grants to science education. It likes to support interdisciplinary work and touches on philosophy and spirituality. The foundation also supports early-career scholars and is known for its Templeton Prize for spiritual leaders.

IP TAKE: This foundation gives lots to science education and research, but only if it syncs with its goal of pursuing what Templeton considers “the big questions.” Don't rule Templeton out, but keep in mind that the foundation is looking for something creative that takes on some of the underlying mysteries of the world and that unsolicited inquiries are accepted on a project-by-project basis.

PROFILE: The Pennsylvania-based Templeton Foundation is devoted to discoveries related to the "Big Questions of human purpose and reality." John Templeton Foundation’s main interest is supporting science, but it does so with an approach that is quite unlike any other foundation. The biggest difference, relative to other science funders, is that it’s open to programs that combine scientific principles with other philosophies and fields.

This may actually turn off some applicants, but Templeton is one of the biggest science funders around. While traditional STEM education isn’t an explicit program, many such programs fall under their somewhat nebulous categories of giving. That said, unless your program is creative, ambitious, and more than a little edgy, Templeton probably won’t be interested.

The driving concept behind all of Templeton’s giving is investing in the “Big Questions.” Its funding areas are also more about ideas than specific types of programs.

The most important program for science educators is 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 into 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. The Science in Dialogue subprogram for example, has funded projects such as “Empowering Science Teachers to Address Perceived Conflicts between Science and Religion.”

While the title “Exceptional Cognitive Talent and Genius” might not suggest it, Templeton is also a supporter of STEM education through this program. Though a relatively small number of grants have been awarded in this area (an average of less than one per year over the past decade), about half of them supported university studies and university-affiliated events related to "identifying and nurturing young people who demonstrate exceptional talent in mathematics and science" both in the U.S. and internationally.

Exceptional Cognitive Talent and Genius is the most directly applicable program for science education. This funding area has backed contests for high school students, online learning resources for gifted young people, and even academic studies about education.

Templeton's final core grantmaking area is focused on genetics, and concerns "how major advances in genetics might serve to empower individuals, leading to spiritually beneficial social and cultural changes." Several universities and research institutes have received support for genetics research on the preventative and curative sides, as well as investigations into how health is passed down from one generation to the next. That said, the foundation is "still in its early stages" in this funding area, does not accept unsolicited proposals for related projects, and has made relatively few genetics grants. Yet a significant portion of those grants have come in recent years, and the foundation has stated a desire to have "a broader grant portfolio" going forward.

The foundation’s grant process is fairly accessible. Each year, Templeton offers open grant inquiry periods, which are conducted online. Additional information is also available here regarding funding competitions, and details about the foundation’s past giving are laid out in detail in its grants database.

The foundation is open to initial inquiries in some project areas only, and states that full proposals are by invitation only after the review of an initial proposal. Competition is strong for Templeton grants, but 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.”

To sum up: this is not the funder to approach with the conventional, "same-old-thing" approach to science education or research. But if your project is about shaking up the status quo of how we think of science and/or maximizing the potential of promising young scientists, it could find a home at Templeton.


  • Michael Murray, Senior Vice President of Programs
  • Nicholas J.S. Gibson, Program Officer, Human Sciences
  • Kevin Arnold, Program Officer, Life Sciences and Genetics
  • Bevin Ashley Zauderer, Ph.D., Assistant Director, Mathematical and Physical Sciences