Media Impact Funders: The John Templeton Foundation has provided support for radio shows and podcasts such as On Being, The Science of Happiness, and Everything Happens as a means to explore life’s biggest questions. What are some takeaways from that support?
David Nassar: One takeaway is that there is a real thirst for conversations that are positive, forward-looking, and cut across boundaries of perspective and discipline. It’s remarkable how much interest you find when you talk about how new ideas and discoveries can help people live lives of greater prosperity and joy—whether those insights come from psychology, biology, philosophy, physics or theology.
Another takeaway is that it can raise our profile with potential grantees. Supporting podcasts has brought visibility to the work of Templeton-funded researchers, and updating our sponsor messaging has been effective in drawing in some applications we might not otherwise have seen.
MIF: What other media projects or initiatives are you working on?
DN: We’re excited about a number of projects. These include a few upcoming documentaries: Peggy Callahan’s “Act Like a Holy Man,” Brian Greene’s “Light Falls,” and Alan Lightman’s “Searching.” We’re also looking forward to bringing the popular U.K.-based program “Unbelievable?” to the U.S. In addition to these, we’ve supported episodes on NOVA, articles on Aeon, and programs on Closer to Truth, among a variety of other activities.
It’s worth noting that we fund lots of other initiatives outside of media: museum exhibits, educational programs, science festivals, and public events such as a panel on “Exploring the Unknown” at the Atlantic Festival last year.
MIF: As a foundation that supports inquiry in religion and science, is Templeton able to build understanding and appreciation across communities that are sometimes in conflict?
DN: We find there’s often less conflict than curiosity. There’s a good deal of evidence—some empirical, some anecdotal—that religious communities are increasingly receptive to the findings of mainstream science. To take just a few examples from our recent work, Tibetan Buddhist monks have enthusiastically incorporated scientific studies into their curriculum, as have Muslim students at madrasas and Christian students at seminaries. Across our funding, we find that there is real appetite for mutual learning from different perspectives, to see things in relation to one another, whether that’s among physicists and philosophers, theologians and psychologists, or geneticists and ethicists.
MIF: What does the foundation want to accomplish in the next year? In the next 5 years?
DN: As a foundation that typically grants more than $120 million per year, there are many exciting projects we could point to. I’ll highlight one that feels particularly timely: the Open Mind Platform. This is an online educational tool that aims to address some of the intense polarization that has occurred in many parts of our society. The goal is to help people, as it states, to “engage constructively across differences” and overcome divisions within communities, campuses, and organizations.
This relates to a larger goal of the foundation, which is help the world by fostering a virtue called “intellectual humility”—a form of open-mindedness. We’re funding researchers who are trying to understand the benefits of this virtue, and to create interventions that help people practice it in life. We hope that can benefit people individually and as a society.
MIF: What do you want your peers to know about your work?
DN: We’re always looking for great partners. We work with funders sharing common interests to expand the impact of our respective work, to collaborate on projects, to learn from one another’s successes, and to strategize about areas of common philanthropic interest.
In recent years we have worked with range of partners, from organizing a TED Social event with Brian Greene and the Simons Foundation, to supporting a national speech and essay contest on freedom with Paramount Pictures’ Selma and the National Liberty Museum, to convening a gathering of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders at a pontifical university in Rome.
Whether you are an individual philanthropist, a foundation, or a company, if you are interested in exploring possible partnerships, and your interests align with any of our Funding Areas, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Next week, Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist, physician and director of the National Institutes of Health since 2009, will be celebrated as the winner of the 2020 Templeton Prize. Established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton (who later founded the John Templeton Foundation), the Templeton Prize honors individuals who harness the power of science to “explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” Here, Collins reflects on COVID-19, how its changed us, and his role in leading the quest to find a cure.