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In the thirteenth episode of the “Saturdays at Seven” conversation series, Todd Ream talks with Heather Templeton Dill, the President of the John Templeton Foundation. Heather talks about her vision for the foundation to be a global catalyst that inspires awe and wonder as a result of its focus on investing in efforts to ask the big questions. They also talk about the impact that Heather’s grandfather, Sir John Templeton, and her father, John M. Templeton, Jr. had on the vision and culture of the foundation. They then close by talking about how Church-related colleges and universities can be spaces in our society which cultivate an ability to ask the big questions as well as foster the virtues educators and students need to pursue possible answers to those questions.
- Wisdom from World Religions by Sir John Templeton
- Lessons in Leadership by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Todd Ream: Welcome to Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. My name is Todd Ream. I have the privilege of serving as the publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review and as the host for Saturdays at Seven. I also have the privilege of serving on the faculty and the administration at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Todd Ream: Our guest is Heather Templeton Dill, the president of the John Templeton Foundation. Thank you for joining us.
Heather Templeton Dill: Great to be here, Todd. Great to be with you.
Todd Ream: In December 2021, you wrote, “The underlying vision of the John Templeton Foundation is to inspire awe and wonder and help humanity to understand what it means to live life full of purpose and meaning.” Would you please offer an example of a request for proposals along those lines that you and your colleagues issued and thought had considerable promise?
Heather Templeton Dill: Well, thank you for that. And I appreciate your reference to how I’ve described the work of the John Templeton Foundation. Our vision is to be a global catalyst for discoveries that contribute to human flourishing. So, what do we mean by that? Well, we are trying to encourage a world where people can lead lives of purpose and meaning, are overwhelmed by great and selfless love, and as we looked out on the world, we were quite impressed with the number of scholars and teachers at universities around the country who had these courses where they were trying to engage undergraduate students in questions about their purpose and their meaning as they pursued their undergraduate study.
So, Meghan Sullivan at the University of Notre Dame teaches a course called “God in the Good Life.” Miroslav Volf at Yale University teaches a course called “Life Worth Living.” And Dave Evans has the course “Design Your Life” at Stanford. And so what we did was work with Meghan Sullivan and with Miroslav Volf to design a program where they—we allocated funds to them and their work at their respective universities, and then they are initiating a sub-granting project where they are trying to expand the network of educators who can teach these kinds of courses and to provide space for the development of the curriculum as well as training educators to do these kinds of courses well.
And this tapped into a need that I think we all feel. Those of us who are in the university setting certainly see this, where our students are really thirsty for these kinds of conversations. So, one way in which we’ve tried to encourage people to live lives of purpose and meaning is to engage with them in the university setting and those during those formative undergraduate years. And these two programs are their own requests for proposal programs that we’ve been able to support.
Todd Ream: Thank you. You graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Notre Dame, began your career teaching at your high school alma mater, Delaware County Christian School, and then earned a graduate degree from Villanova. You then began working at the foundation and eventually were appointed president in 2015.
What experiences proved most formative in terms of your preparation to lead an organization focused on inspiring awe and lives of purpose and meaning?
Heather Templeton Dill: So, I’m a product of Christian education, as you noted, and those experiences were formative for me because I was formed with a solid foundation in my Christian faith, and that was my experience before college and then during college at the University of Notre Dame.
At Notre Dame, I had the opportunity to take courses that stretched my imagination a bit further. I took a course in world religions and that began to help me reflect on my own faith in light of what other faith traditions teach and believe. I was a history major at Notre Dame and took a course in medieval Spain, which is a fascinating time-period. I had never learned about that part of history during that time where you really see three faith traditions, finding a way to live together productively and well. And, of course, you can see that if you go to Spain today.
So those are some of the opportunities I had as an undergraduate student to begin thinking about questions that stretched beyond my own particular faith tradition.
And then from Notre Dame, I went on to teach, but I eventually began to meet people outside of my traditions and become good friends with those who were deeply religious, but had a different faith. And I found that also inspiring as well.
And over the years, I finally sat down to read the many books my grandfather had written during his lifetime. I, of course, was surrounded by those books as a young person. But it really—it actually wasn’t until he passed away that I sat down, I read those books, and that experience, in combination with the friendships I had at the time, helped me to see the vision, his philanthropic vision, but also to be open to questions and curious about what it means to inspire awe and wonder in my own life, as well as in the lives of others.
Todd Ream: To lead a foundation with such an ambitious vision, what components of your ongoing development have proven most critical?
Heather Templeton Dill: Elements of my ongoing development that have been really important for me are the opportunities to meet some of the Templeton Prize laureates that we have awarded or recognized during my tenure. So, the Templeton Prize is a program established in 1972. It’s given to an individual every year and recognizes those who harness the power of the sciences to help humankind explore our purpose and meaning in the universe. And each of the individuals who has received that award stands out to me.
And it has been a real blessing as well as an opportunity to learn more, to engage with, with each of them. Beyond that, I have- my fingers touch a lot of different elements of our work here. So, I learned a lot from the team members here at the John Templeton Foundation. I have the opportunity to work with people who are trained in many different disciplines. I have the opportunity to work with those who manage our operations, and they are always teaching me about ideas, ways of working that are more effective, more efficient, and I’m learning along the way.
So those are some of the ways in which my ongoing development has helped me to continue in this role and to grow the work that we’re doing.
Todd Ream: If I may then, to whom do you turn with greatest frequency in terms of your habit of reading?
Heather Templeton Dill: Well, so over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to really reflect on interfaith engagement, religious pluralism. My grandfather wrote a book called The Wisdom from World Religions. He was a Christian himself, but deeply curious about and influenced by the teachings of different faith traditions, which in some ways overlap with some of the teachings within the Christian tradition.
And so, I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sachs, who received the Templeton Prize in 2016. So, his books are deeply influential to me. Miroslav Volf, I mentioned him earlier, but he, um, has written extensively about bridging differences, learning to see perspectives, different perspectives, and I find that to be, uh, influential as well. Eboo Patel, one of America’s great interfaith leaders, is also a source of influence and thinking through many of the issues that we deal with.
The John Templeton Foundation is also known for bridging science and religion. So that’s sort of a divide that has, uh, some feel like is more of a divide than, than we would say, but there are some great thinkers in that space as well. So, the sociologist Elaine Ecklund is a great source. She’s been a grantee, of course, but a great source of information about what scientists actually believe about some of these religious issues and helps to kind of widen our horizons and test our assumptions. John Hedley Brooke, Peter Harrison, or others who have helped me to think in a more nuanced way about the discussions in science and religion.
So those are some of the places I have turned and will turn to given the work that I do.
Todd Ream: Slightly, uh, different question then, uh, to whom have you turned with greatest frequency in terms of habits of conversation?
Heather Templeton Dill: One of the best blessings in my role has been to know other leaders of some of the noteworthy, large private foundations here in the United States. And I have the opportunity to engage with these individuals in small formats and larger formats. And so, some of these individuals have been just really helpful.
Most private foundations in the United States, the ones that most people have heard of, they tend to fund work that the John Templeton Foundation is not funding, given the mandate that we have. Nevertheless, I find great inspiration from their way of leading. The issues that take, they take on and the creative ways in which they seek to address those issues. So early on in my tenure, I read an article about Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, in The New Yorker, and that gave me a vision for what it means to really focus the work of an institution in order to have great impact.
Larry Kramer is another leader of a private foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, who writes extensively and has, um, helps us to reflect on what philanthropy is doing and why, and also helps us to test our assumptions that we often have when we work in philanthropy.
So those are two individuals I would point out specifically, but beyond them, there are many leaders who are gracious with their time and gracious with their insights, and I’ve been incredibly blessed by them.
Todd Ream: Thank you. The Templeton Foundation is located in the Philadelphia area, but its roots are in Winchester, Tennessee, community of about 10,000 persons, a hundred miles south, southwest, if my directions or my memory served me well, of Nashville. Would you please introduce us in sort of further detail to your grandfather, Sir John Templeton, and what eventually led to his vision for, and the establishment of the foundation?
Heather Templeton Dill: As you mentioned, my grandfather grew up in Tennessee, in a small community. And he lived in an environment where his mother let him roam freely. So, he had great freedom as a young child to explore. He pursued many activities that I probably wouldn’t have let my own children pursue and many of us wouldn’t do today, but he always counted that gift of freedom to explore as one of his great blessings.
Among the many things that he did was aspire to go to Yale University. In order to get there, he had to convince the high school principal that he himself, Sir John, could teach a course in calculus because he needed to complete the course in order to apply to Yale University. He did that. He pursued his undergraduate education in New Haven and then earned a Rhodes Scholarship, and that sent him across the pond to Oxford where he studied for two years.
When he completed that degree then he spent a few months traveling around the world, sort of heading east across Europe and across Asia and that experience was formative for him in his business career as well as ultimately in his philanthropy. He’s best known for starting mutual funds. His first mutual fund was established in 1954, the Templeton Global Fund, and it had a mandate to seek investments all around the world, which was something we do today regularly, but people weren’t doing at the time.
While he was building his business career and after his three children had been born, he experienced a number of setbacks and tragedies. One of the most important or significant setbacks in his life was losing his first wife and his mother within six months of each other. They were, as he says, the two most important women in his life.
And he continued working diligently, but that also led him to ask, begin exploring the spiritual side of his life, and he started to engage with groups, the Princeton Theological Seminary, in particular, but others as well. He served on the board of the Princeton Theological Seminary in order to serve the Church. Those are his words. But it was his way of saying, I’ve been through a lot; let me see how I can use the gifts I have to serve others.
And that experience of engaging with academics at Princeton and others led him to create the Templeton Prize. It was called the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion originally. And then he began to really explore that bridge between the scientific way of knowing and the religious or theological or philosophical way of knowing. And those ideas then became the fruits or the initial fruits of the John Templeton Foundation, which was established in 1987.
Todd Ream: Would you please share with us how your grandfather’s vision for the foundation then is imprinted on the, on its culture today?
Heather Templeton Dill: Sir John was one of the most open-minded individuals I have ever met. And in fact, I had the opportunity to interview some of the investment managers who worked for Sir John, when my grandfather was in his seventies. And the one thing they all said about him was that he was incredibly open-minded in his approach to life. And I think that’s a high commendation for him as an individual.
So, we, we manifest that here at the John Templeton Foundation. Not a perfect organization, but I would characterize our internal ethos as humble and open to new ideas. So we have team members who are willing to look beyond their disciplinary training and ask questions and engage with other disciplines. We have people who want to explore new ideas and that’s true across the organization. So humble and open-minded.
My grandfather prioritized thrift as a way of life. I think we try to be thrifty, but we also are stewards of his vision. So, we don’t see these resources as our own, we see ourselves as trying to carry on Sir John’s philanthropic vision.
So those are some of the ways in which, who he was as an individual and his philanthropic vision, influence our internal culture here at the John Templeton Foundation.
Todd Ream: Thank you. Your own parents, John Templeton Jr. and Pina Templeton, were both physicians, respectively a pediatric surgeon and a pediatric anesthesiologist. Your father eventually ceased formally practicing medicine to lead the foundation, motivated by the joy that exists at the intersection of thrift and generosity, perhaps partly because of the influence of his own father, I assume, and became the basis for one of his books that he wrote over the course of his father’s lifetime.
Would you please unpack for us how your father’s vision for the foundation is imprinted on its culture today?
Heather Templeton Dill: My father led this organization for many years. When my grandfather passed away in 2008, uh, my father had already been serving in leadership, but at that time, he took it upon himself to really remind all of us that this organization was established by Sir John Templeton.
And there were some who encouraged him to maybe think beyond what my grandfather wanted to do, and he really wanted to remind himself and remind those working for the organization at the time, and remind all of us who would follow in his footsteps, that this philanthropic vision was articulated by my grandfather. So, he actually had some signs made up, we still have these around the office today, what would Sir John do? And we can chuckle about it, but it’s a healthy, helpful reminder. So that’s the first component of my father’s influence.
My father also really loved the areas of character virtue development and individual freedom and free markets. Those are two of our signature grant making areas to this day. And that is in part because of Sir John’s interest in those areas. But I think it’s also largely because of my father’s deep passion for both of those areas of work. Character virtue development, individual freedom, and free markets are listed in our governing documents under the founders’ other favorite charitable interests. And so, we could fund a lot. We could fund a little, but my dad really thought it was important to give grants in that area.
And then the final component of my father’s influence is that he thought big. He initiated major grant making programs that continue to have impact today. I’ll just mention three. In the Character Virtue Development portfolio, my dad was one of the people who created the ideas behind the Jubilee Center for Character and Virtue. Naturally, the work has been led by the leaders at the University of Birmingham, James Arthur in particular. But dad worked very closely with James Arthur to create that program, and the John Templeton Foundation invested ten years in that initiative.
My father also worked closely with Jeff Rosen at the National Constitution Center right here in Philadelphia to support the development of “The Interactive Constitution,” one of our signature programs and individual freedom and free markets. And then finally, we have funded a great deal of research on the concept of awe. We’ve already talked about awe and wonder. And when my dad put that forward, let’s study awe, he was told you can’t research awe, you can’t measure awe. And he resisted, and he said, I think we can.
And to this day, we are just culling all the great research from that project. Dr. Keltner is the psychologist who worked and led much of that research. He published a book on awe that many people are reading and finding applicable to their lives. So those are the ways in which my father made a significant contribution to our work.
Todd Ream: In another one of his books, your father wrote in his autobiography that an early base of operations for the foundation was an apartment over the family garage that included a series of folding tables and filing cabinets. Now I have to digress here for a second and say that one of my favorite, you know, components of reading your father’s biography was that eventually he talks about the filing cabinets became so heavy that the garage had to be reinforced to make sure that they didn’t wind up on the floor on the first floor where the cars were perhaps parked or children perhaps might be playing.
Heather Templeton Dill: That’s right.
Todd Ream: Yeah. But today the foundation grants more than $130 million a year to various partners. When someone asks your successor one day about your vision for the foundation and how that vision is imprinted on its culture, what do you hope that person notes?
Heather Templeton Dill: I hope that people think about the impact of the John Templeton Foundation. I have been focused, or I’ve tried to focus our thinking and work on doing research. We fund basic science research or basic research across academic disciplines, but we want that research to make a difference in the lives of individuals, institutions, and communities. And I have tried to do that by first reducing the wide range of areas in which we’re funding. So, to narrow our focus.
There’s so many different themes and topics and disciplines that we could support because my grandfather’s vision was so big. And I hope over hundreds of years we’ll be able to support all those ideas. But in order to have an impact, I think we need to focus, and we have tried to do that, or I have tried to push us to do that during my tenure. So that’s the first component.
The other is, I hope people will remember that I tried, and I didn’t do the work myself, I just tried to clear the hurdles so we could do this. I have people who are better skilled than I am to tell our story well. Who are we at the John Templeton Foundation? What do we do and why does it matter?
So, when people think about my tenure, I hope they think about impact, both the impact we were able to achieve while I served as president and maybe the impact that will come as a result of the work we funded. And I hope they will think about the fact that JTF was, became better known and better respected after I, I move on and somebody else takes the helm here at the foundation.
Todd Ream: Thank you. As was already echoed, the foundation is known for asking the big questions as a result of the leadership that brought it into its existence, gave it life, and sustains it to this day. When determining how to craft particular requests for proposals, how do you and your team determine what questions merit asking?
Heather Templeton Dill: Well, first we start with the way we’ve structured our grant making activity here at the foundation. Right now, we have six different funding areas. I’ve mentioned two of them. We fund in life sciences, mathematical and physical sciences. We have a funding area called religion, science, and society. That’s a new funding area that we developed and will still be developing. So, we start there.
And then we have team members who are working in each of those funding areas who have their own academic training. They spend their time listening to the world outside these four walls here at the John Templeton Foundation by attending conferences, talking to current grantees, talking to potential grantees, reading the literature, just trying to stay abreast, and also just being aware of what’s going on in the world.
And then we use that, the departmental structure of the funding area structure, the sort of keeping a listening ear on the world around us to identify some specific strategic opportunities, and we develop strategic plans. Generally, we think about them in terms of three or five years of investment, but it’s an overarching umbrella for each of those six funding areas and, and, and, that will then guide what specific calls for proposals will we issue.
We—those strategic plans are approved by the board. And once those are in place, then we can come up with a specific idea. Once we have an idea, then we consult with those on the outside as well. We, we access experts and others to say, here’s the kind of funding proposal we want to put forward. What do you think? What advice would you have about how to articulate what we’re interested in and then what we would do to evaluate the proposals that come in? So, it’s kind of an iterative, as well as a multi-step process.
Todd Ream: Even within the discipline that’s fostered by those specific funding areas, what questions, uh, may merit asking, but you and your colleagues decide, we can wait?
Heather Templeton Dill: Yes, that is . . . generally that’s borne out by talking to other people. People in the fields that we might support. And they say, well, look, enough work has been done in that space. So, we generally like to pursue ideas, questions that others haven’t thought to fund yet, or that others may have thought are not worth funding or would be too risky to fund. And so that’s the kind of question we might put forward and we would put to the side questions that are tapping into work. That’s already been being done. It can be hard to determine which one is which, but that’s the general approach we take.
Todd Ream: Yeah, that seems to me like it could be one of the most sort of enjoyable and fun challenges to face is, you know, we’ve have a variety of things that all fit within a funding area, but we need to decide. Uh, and then put our efforts there in order to make sure that the best answers are yielded in relation to a particular question.
Heather Templeton Dill: That’s right. It’s a—it’s both a challenge and a joy to think through that. And we’re always grateful for those who don’t work at the foundation, but who are willing to give us advice or come alongside us and help us determine the best way to craft a question or request for proposals.
Todd Ream: Along these sort of similar lines, then, what questions may merit asking but then you eventually decide perhaps are best pursued by other organizations or entities?
Heather Templeton Dill: In some of our funding areas, we are often confronted with opportunities to address current needs, current humanitarian needs. That’s not what my grandfather wanted us to do. He always talked about funding work that would eliminate future suffering and poverty and disease.
And so, as much as we try to fund questions that others aren’t willing to fund, or don’t think are going to have that much impact, or maybe don’t think are relevant at this time and place, we are also thinking about what kind of work can we do to eliminate future poverty, suffering, and disease.
We’re extremely grateful for all of those who are addressing current problems. There is a need to do that. We’re looking beyond. How can we lay the groundwork for the challenges that the world will face in the future?
Todd Ream: When cultivating a society that’s willing and able, uh, to ask the big questions, what virtues, whether they be intellectual, moral, or theological, do you think need greater attention in perhaps our K-12 schools or our colleges and universities today?
Heather Templeton Dill: Well, first, I would say that I think teachers and educators are some of the best people in the world and whenever I step foot on a campus, whether it’s the secondary school where my kids attend or a university campus, I just find it exhilarating because in many ways, I think that’s where some of the most important work is, is going on.
At the K to 12 level, I think curiosity is a key virtue that it is cultivated and should be prioritized in, in many ways. And I encourage kind of an experiential approach to learning. I think of some of the opportunities that my own kids had in their K to 12 education or even in their K to 5 education, where the science classes they remember the best were the ones where they learned all about the development of how a chick is born. And then they have these little eggs that they nurture and they watch over a couple of weeks and all of a sudden something begins to peck through the shell.
I mean, they are seven and eight when they’re doing this, but just the eyes lighting up. And I love that, the tactile element of that. I think that really creates that spirit of curiosity. And so that’s a key virtue that I think, um, is the teachers think about that all the time, but the more that we can do to spark curiosity by asking questions, by giving—helping them in the case of science, doing real science, as opposed to reading about it in a text would contribute to some of the virtues that we value and the virtues that enable people to ask big, big questions and to be open to different kinds of questions.
Todd Ream: I think some of the most intense conversations and debates that emerged in my elementary school years were those on the cusp of a break and who was going to take those chicks home or the hamsters home or whatever the pet was that, you know, and, uh, or the experiments, sorts of the experimentation that was going on. Who was going to get to steward those for a couple of days over a break or over a weekend, um, perhaps knowing too, that some of these things may happen, uh, not necessarily in the classroom, but in my living room?
Heather Templeton Dill: That’s right. That’s right. No, and I, my kids also had a teacher in elementary school who took them to the beach to study marine biology, whose classroom was filled full of rocks when they studied geology. And one of them said to me, when we were talking about what he might want to do in life, well, I really want to be a marine biologist, but actually, I think I might want to be a geologist when we get to the study of rocks. And that was his comment on just the vision and enthusiasm that this teacher brought to bear. And I will always remember that and be grateful for it.
Todd Ream: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Perhaps we’ve talked about a few of these already, but would you offer an example of a person who inspires you as a result of her or his willingness to ask big questions?
Heather Templeton Dill: Well, I will mention again, Rabbi Sacks, Lord Rabbi, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. Here is a man who was charged, took on the opportunity to lead the Jewish community in the United Kingdom. And in that spirit, he worked very hard to build bridges across faith traditions.
And so, I think that requires a level of asking questions. The kinds of questions he asks appear in his writings, and in his books, and in his talks. And he created during his lifetime just a treasure trove of information that people could read then and that we could draw from now. So, he’s a person that stands out to me as, as a being willing to ask these questions.
The other individuals that I would refer to would be, um, some of our Templeton Prize laureates. So, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and engage with Jane Goodall. She has her own presence, uh, in, in, in her own right. But she too is deeply spiritual in a way that I didn’t appreciate just sort of learning about her throughout my life. And that’s the reason she received the Templeton Prize. So, she’s another one who is willing to engage with many ideas beyond what, what she cares about.
And then I think on a more personal level about people in my own life. I’ve learned a lot from friends of mine who are deeply religious, but not a Christian like I am. And I’ve learned a lot from them because we have so much in common. We have a common commitment to faith and their ability to ask me questions has sparked my own curiosity. So, I just have good friends as well that have inspired me in this work of asking questions and being willing to think beyond what I really know, what I already know.
Todd Ream: When you think about what you know about their lives in their earlier years, their formative years, are there any particular experiences that you think are more formative, uh, for them in terms of this willingness and the ability then that comes, uh, after that or with that?
Heather Templeton Dill: So, if I refer to those that I’ve mentioned one of the experiences that stands out to me about Rabbi Sacks was he studied philosophy. He was a scholar. He, he wanted to kind of pursue his education. He came to the United States and had the opportunity to meet a well-known Orthodox rabbi and was sort of lamenting, oh, what am I going to do with my life? I have all these big questions and this rabbi started asking him questions about the Jewish people he knew in the United Kingdom and basically said to Rabbi Sacks, you have a calling to go and lead.
And so here was a young scholar who was trying to learn as much as he could, who sought out a leader that he respected, and was really challenged. And the challenge was, just stop complaining about these things, and see what you can do about it. And go on and do it. And that’s indeed what Rabbi Sacks went on and accomplished throughout his life. So, I think that experience, which he recounts in a book he wrote called Lessons in Leadership, is clearly formative in, in his life.
When I think of Jane Goodall, she’s always great about telling the stories from her childhood that inspired that sense of awe and wonder, which then informed her scientific work and continues to inspire her today. She’s 89 and she continues to travel all around the world advocating for the health of our planet. But she talks about watching a chick for hours trying to figure out where does the egg come from and the joy she experienced when she saw this egg, uh, emerge from the, the backside of a chicken. And she would spend hours outside in the garden climbing trees and watching the birds, and she had a deep special friendship with her dog, all born out, born from a mother who inspired or allowed for that curiosity.
In terms of the friends who have had the most impact on my life, they all have varying experiences with religion in their background where some of them are positive and some of them are negative and through the amalgamation of those experiences they were able to recognize, um, faith is important to them and they are going to pursue that and they’re going to make it not just part of something they do at a certain part of the week, but it’s going to infuse their friendships the way they parent their children and the way they look at the world and so those are some of the experiences from the people I mentioned that have always stood out to me as formative in their lives.
Todd Ream: Yeah. Thank you. Really appreciate that. Would you please offer your assessment of the ability of the Church-related university to cultivate educators and students who are then willing and able to ask these big questions?
Heather Templeton Dill: Well, I think that the Church-related universities, colleges and universities, provide a foundation for the faith tradition that they, uh, are supporting or the faith tradition from which they come. And I think that foundation in one’s own tradition is essential to help individuals be able to understand those who are different. And to help individuals be willing to ask questions.
It’s sort of like being—having an anchor, having a solid platform on which to stand, you, you know what you know, and from that basis of knowledge and understanding and even commitment, you’re in a safe place to ask questions that might challenge the very beliefs you have or that might expand your own way of thinking because you can always sort of tie yourself back to that anchor of faith. And that is what Church-related institutions provide to their students, and I think they do that very well.
In the midst of that, I have the opportunity from time-to-time to visit some of these institutions and some of my favorite experiences because the students that I interact with are so inquisitive and engaged, and they are actually asking big questions. They’re not afraid to recognize that while some group of people they go to school with might all be Christian or might all be a certain—from a certain Christian tradition, they have different views on many different issues.
And the Church-related institution can also provide a space to engage with people who share something in common, but also have different perspectives on the world. And I know professors who cultivate that in their individual classrooms. I find that so inspiring and it gives me such great hope for where we are today and for the future of the world.
Todd Ream: What, if anything, do you think those institutions could do better along these lines? Are there particular challenges that you think, you know, they struggle with, um, and that hamper these efforts?
Heather Templeton Dill: I think there can be a challenge where, um, if a student feels like they can’t engage with an idea or topic that’s important to them, and they don’t have an opportunity or space to ask those questions, that can inhibit learning. That can be problematic. That can cause people, to maybe question their faith in a way that allowing them to ask the question doesn’t. It actually enriches their faith.
Part of my own personal narrative in having deep friendships with people from other faith traditions is that those friendships, what I learned from those who practice a different faith, have actually enlivened my own faith and inspired me to be more committed to the things that I say I believe.
And so, I would just encourage, that Church-related institutions, colleges, and universities to allow that space and to give professors the opportunity, the freedom. I think it’s all there. Um, so to the extent that that can just be encouraged, that’s to the advantage of all of us.
Todd Ream: As we get ready to wrap up our time then, uh, I have to ask, if I may, what do you and your colleagues wish leaders of Church-related colleges and universities understood in greater detail about the foundation’s willingness to partner with their educators and students?
Heather Templeton Dill: There are three things I would say in response to that question. One, we are very interested in interdisciplinary work. So, projects that involve scholars from multiple disciplines are a prime sweet spot for us. Along those lines, we are also interested in interfaith or multi-faith projects. So, to the extent that a Church-related institution can tap into others from different institutions and bring that lens that comes from different faiths, studying the same question alongside each other, that is really promising to us. So that’s the first, interdisciplinary and I’ll say multi-faith.
The second is to think of the John Templeton Foundation as a seed investor in an idea or an area of research that an institution or an individual scholar might be interested in pursuing. So, we can give you a little bit of a startup grant and we might be able to do a follow up grant for another three years.
But beyond that, we’re going to want to see others coming to the table and funding that work. It can come from the institution itself. Better yet, it could come from some other donors who are willing to support that work. And I think it’s important to think about the sustainability of projects from the beginning of a project. We’re trying to do that. Those who apply to us should be trying to do that.
And then the third is impact. How does the scholarship that you want to pursue, knowing that scholarship and science is incremental, but what’s the potential impact for it? We don’t expect every single grant to have this monumental impact that’s going to transform the lives of individuals, institutions, and communities. But we do want our applicants to be able to make a case for what could be possible if the research really does excel.
So those are the three points I would want really any applicant, but specifically Church-related schools and universities to think about.
Todd Ream: That’s very helpful. Thank you. Our guest has been Heather Templeton Dill, the president of the John Templeton Foundation. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and wisdom with us today.
Heather Templeton Dill: Thank you, Todd. Great to speak with you today.
Todd Ream: Thank you for joining us for Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. We invite you to join us again next week for Saturdays at Seven.