Philanthropist Sir John Templeton dies at 95

Sir John Templeton, the American-born investor and philanthropist who devoted his later life to funding the scientific study of religion, died July 8 at Doctors Hospital in Nassau, Bahamas. He was 95.

The John Templeton Foundation, his charitable organization, said the cause of death was pneumonia.

Once called "arguably the greatest global stock picker," Templeton founded a prize for "progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities" in 1972. He sought to make the million-dollar Templeton Prize the world's largest annual award bestowed on an individual, always exceeding the monetary value of the Nobel Prize.

In 1987, Templeton, a Presbyterian, set up an eponymous foundation dedicated to exploring what he called the "big questions" of science and religion: God's plan, man's faith, and the order of the universe.

"Scientific revelations may be a goldmine for revitalizing religion in the 21st century," Templeton once said.

Focusing on what he called a "humble approach" to theology, Templeton also wrote, co-wrote, or edited two dozen books, several of which incorporated ideas from many world religions.

John Templeton was born Nov. 29, 1912, in Winchester, Tenn. _ a few towns away from the site of the infamous 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" that pitted Darwin's theory of evolution against religious faith. The tensions of that trial long remained with the then-12-year-old Templeton.

After working his way through Yale University, Templeton won a Rhodes Scholarship and studied law at Oxford. He postponed his return to the United States to travel through Europe and Asia, gaining business experience in foreign markets and earning the nickname the "Marco Polo of the Class of 1934."

Following a brief stint with a Wall Street brokerage firm, Templeton accepted a job with an Oxford classmate's oil company in Texas, before striking out on his own.

At the outbreak of World War II, he made good on his motto of finding value in places others had shunned. Convinced that failing companies would bounce back during wartime, Templeton scored early success that led to the establishment of his enormously profitable mutual fund, Templeton Growth, Ltd., in 1954.

He commenced annual meetings with a prayer, not pleas for financial gain. While some questioned whether business acumen and a religious outlook could go hand in hand, Templeton never saw a conflict between the two.

"Competitive business has reduced costs, has increased variety, has improved quality," he said in 1999, adding that it "has been a blessing to the poor. There has never been a better way to teach ethics than competitive business."

If a business is not ethical, "it will fail, perhaps not right away, but eventually," he said.

Long associated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), Templeton lent his professional expertise to the church's clergy pension fund for more than three decades and served on the board of Princeton Theological Seminary for 42 years. "I have no quarrel with what I learned in the Presbyterian Church," he once said. "I am still an enthusiastic Christian. But why shouldn't I try to learn more? Why shouldn't I go to Hindu services? Why shouldn't I go to Muslim services? If you are not egotistical, you will welcome the opportunity to learn more."

His passion for continuous learning spurred him to establish the Templeton Prize, meant to extol spiritual discovery to the same degree as research in other fields.

Today worth more than $1.6 million, the Templeton prize has been awarded to Mother Teresa, theoretical physicist Paul Davies, Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and American evangelist Billy Graham.

Michal Heller, a Polish cosmologist and Roman Catholic priest, whose work connects theology and physics, won the award in 2008.

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