Q: Could you please give us a few sentences to introduce the John Templeton Foundation and yourself?
A: Established in 1987, the John Templeton Foundation seeks to catalyze investigation into life’s biggest questions, which range from the nature and structure of the universe to the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness and creativity. We are committed to rigorous scientific research and guided by Sir John Templeton’s maxim “How little we know, how eager to learn.” I serve as the Vice President of Human Sciences, where I work with the programs team to evaluate grant proposals and to develop new initiatives based our core themes (http://www.templeton.org/funding_areas/core_themes).
Q: Does Templeton Foundation support projects related to the study of religions other than China? Could you give us some examples?
A: The Foundation is very interested in supporting objective research that connects religious thought and practice to pertinent scientific research methods; indeed, one of our funding areas is world religions (http://www.templeton.org/funding_areas/world_religions), and we support many such projects across the globe every year. We recently funded a project through the Mind and Life Institute that allowed neuroscientists to explore the intersection between Buddhist practice, particularly contemplation, and science. Another recent grant supported the constructive, interdisciplinary engagement of science and religion from an Islamic perspective through the Université Interdisciplinaire de Paris. In 2005, we funded a conference exploring Judaism and the phenomenon of life in the thought of philosopher Hans Jonas. The Foundation has also funded many survey research projects in the US, UK and other countries that examine the impact of religious beliefs and behaviors, most notably Professor Robert Putnam’s research on the contributions of religion to social capital. Finally, I am developing an initiative on global Pentecostalism which we aim to launch later this year.
Q: What kinds of projects has the Templeton Foundation supported regarding the study of Chinese religion?
A: The study of Chinese society and religion has been of growing interest to the Foundation in the past few years. Starting in 2004, we funded a comparative study of religious experience in Britain and China through the University of Oxford. Through the Metanexus Institute and a Spiritual Capital program, we also provided funding to Dr. Fenggang Yang to explore the role that faith and trust play in China’s emerging market economy. In 2006, we began to work with both Baylor University and Calvin College on programs which provide support to Chinese scholars conducting rigorous scientific research on religion in China. The Foundation is also organizing a major conference to mark the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope. Leading astronomers and other scientists from around the world will come to Beijing, with the opening of the conference to be held at the Great Hall of the People.
Q: Why is the Templeton Foundation supporting the Beijing Summit for Chinese Spirituality and Society in October?
A: The Beijing Summit was developed in cooperation between Dr. Fenggang Yang, Dr. Byron Johnson of Baylor University, and myself, and will bring together top scholars from several disciplines and from around the world. In developing the summit, we expect that it will significantly influence scholarship in—and about—China for years to come by forging contacts between scholars, providing them with new tools, and identify possible topics for future research in this area.
Q: What is the vision/agenda the foundation has after the Beijing Summit?
A: We expect that the Beijing Summit will significantly influence our future activity in China, and we are looking forward to seeing the results of the Summit. With an eye to the future, we have also provided funding to two different projects that seek to develop a model for gauging Chinese public opinion on topics related to religion to identify ‘big questions’ related to China that would be of interest to the Foundation. Finally, we expect that our Board of Advisors meeting in Beijing will help to identify promising new projects and to shape our future agenda in China.