McGill philosopher first Canadian to win coveted distinction
McGill University Professor Charles Taylor, Canada’s most renowned philosopher and an internationally respected authority on the challenges of reconciling society’s secular and spiritual dimensions, has won the 2007 Templeton Prize.
The Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities is valued at 800,000 pounds sterling (approximately $1.5 million USD), and is the world’s largest annual monetary award given to an individual. It was announced March 14 at a news conference at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York by the John Templeton Foundation, which has awarded the prize since 1973.
Created by British investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the annual award value is purposely set to exceed the Nobel Prizes to underscore the founder’s belief that spiritual exploration and discovery are of equal or greater value than those of other human endeavours. The Duke of Edinburgh will officially present the prize during a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 2. Professor Taylor is the first Canadian to win the Templeton Prize. Previous honourees include the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Mother Teresa.
“I want to say how deeply honoured I am to be chosen for the Templeton Prize,” Taylor said at the announcement. “I believe that the goal Sir John Templeton has chosen is of the greatest contemporary importance and relevance: we have somehow to break down the barriers between our contemporary culture of science and disciplined academic study on one hand, and the domain of spirit, on the other. This has been one of the driving goals of my own intellectual work, and to have it recognized as such fills me with an unstable mixture of joy and humility.”
Taylor, 75, joined McGill's department of political science in 1961 and its department of philosophy in 1973. His 45-year career as a philosopher and public intellectual has produced some of Western thinking’s seminal works on morality, identity of individuals and groups and the political culture of modernity. He was educated at McGill (B.A.52) and, as a Rhodes Scholar, at Oxford University (B.A.55, M.A.60, D.Phil 61), where he studied under Isaiah Berlin and G. E. M. Anscombe. Berlin later said of his former pupil, “Whatever one may think of his central beliefs, [they] cannot fail to broaden the outlook of anyone who reads his works or listens to his lectures or, indeed, talks to him.”
He succeeded Berlin as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford and was for many years Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill. He was awarded Quebec’s Prix Léon-Gérin in 1992, was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1995 and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec in 2000. Taylor, an author of more than a dozen books and scores of published essays and who has lectured extensively, is currently professor of law and philosophy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and professor emeritus in the department of philosophy at McGill.
Last month, after a series of incidents in which Quebec’s traditional religious and cultural norms clashed with those of newly arrived Quebecers, Quebec Premier Jean Charest appointed Taylor to co-chair a commission that will explore and help frame the debate surrounding the reasonable accommodation of religious and cultural minorities in the province.
“The debate we're having in Quebec is one which is taking place in a number of societies in the West today,” said Taylor on his appointment. “It's very important that it happen in a reasoned way and with a minimum of stereotyping and hostility. I see the Commission as a possible occasion to channel the debate and promote exchanges that will help us avoid some of the divisions that have arisen elsewhere.” Hearings throughout the province are expected to begin in fall 2007.
Throughout his career, Taylor, whose best-known book, Sources of the Self, The Making of the Modern Identity (1989), a philosophically-informed reflection on history and the individual, has argued that an exclusive dependence on secularized viewpoints only leads to fragmented, faulty results. He has described such an approach as crippling, preventing crucial insights that might help a global community increasingly exposed to clashes of culture, morality, nationalities, and religions. Born in Montreal to a Francophone mother and an Anglophone father, Taylor credits his early life in a bicultural city and early career at McGill for informing his thinking on these issues.
“It was such a multicultural place, McGill, with people from around the world and students who could have gone to other schools but who were there because they knew their questions would be heard,” he recalled. “It was my students as much as my professors who pushed me because it was their questions that sent me in new directions.”
Charles Taylor lives in Evanston, Illinois, and in Montreal with his wife, Aube Billard, an art historian. He has said he will use the Templeton Prize award to advance his studies of the relationship of language and linguistic meaning to art and theology and to developing new concepts of relating human sciences with biological sciences.
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