Sunday, April 01, 2012

And the Templeton Prize goes to...Dalai Lama

by Salman Hameed

On Friday, Dalai Lama was awarded the $1.7 million Templeton Prize in recognition of his work on religion and its interactions with science. The Templeton prize has become a lightening rod amongst many scientists and the annual announcement is usually followed by stinging commentary on many blogs. The choice of Dalai Lama, however, seems to be safer choice. After all, no one is really taking an issue with his spirituality. The annual controversy erupts because of the perception that the Templeton Foundation is trying to bring religion into science. But Dalai Lama is not a scientist and I think that makes it a more appropriate choice for the Prize.

Here is a bit from the Templeton Foundation website:
The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader whose long-standing engagement with multiple dimensions of science and with people far beyond his own religious traditions has made him an incomparable global voice for universal ethics, nonviolence, and harmony among world religions, has won the 2012 Templeton Prize. 
For decades, Tenzin Gyatso, 76, the 14th Dalai Lama - a lineage believed by followers to be the reincarnation of an ancient Buddhist leader who epitomized compassion - has vigorously focused on the connections between the investigative traditions of science and Buddhism as a way to better understand and advance what both disciplines might offer the world. 
Specifically, he encourages serious scientific investigative reviews of the power of compassion and its broad potential to address the world's fundamental problems - a theme at the core of his teachings and a cornerstone of his immense popularity.
Seems reasonable after skipping the bit on reincarnation. But it is true that Dalai Lama is genuinely interested in science. He has hosted world class scientists to talk about physics and biology, and is has a relatively progressive attitude towards science. So kudos on this choice.

But to balance out the good deed, here is a $2.6 million Templeton funded program for the "spiritual renewal" of the medical University of Chicago!

A $2.6-million, three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation will allow Farr Curlin, MD, and Daniel Sulmasy, MD, co-directors of the Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago, to create a Clinical Scholars Program designed to provide the essential infrastructure for the spiritual renewal of the medical profession. 
The Program will begin by recruiting eight University of Chicago faculty to help take the spiritual “pulse” of medicine by researching the relationship between professional satisfaction and the spiritual lives of physicians. 
“Medicine is a sacred practice,” says Curlin, associate professor of medicine and associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. “We’ll probe how physicians relate their work to the religious traditions they hold and how they could see their work as having moral and spiritual meaning.”
Note - that this is not simply about understanding how physicians might relate their profession to religion and/or spirituality (whatever it is and however it is defined). Instead, it is also about the "spiritual renewal". Now I know one can potentially argue that this is a very broad term and that there really is no religious agenda behind such a program and that the Foundation is simply funding the best programs out there related to science and religion. Well, if you believe that, I have a perfect plot of land for you on the Moon.

One step forward, two steps back.

Also see earlier posts:
The Templeton Foundation Dilemma
Some Thoughts on the Templeton Foundation
Thoughts on Martin Rees and the Templeton Prize
Templeton Prize for a priest-cosmologist


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