On March 14, McGill philosophy professor Charles Taylor ’46 received the largest cash prize that can be given to an individual. Worth $1.5 million U.S., the Templeton Prize is awarded for having helped bridge the gap between spirituality and modern science.
Charles is the first Canadian ever to receive the prize since it was created by American-born financier and philanthropist Sir John Templeton in 1973. Previous recipients include Mother Teresa, Dr. Billy Graham and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Born in 1931 in Montreal, Charles attended Selwyn House from 1941 to 1946. He received a BA in history from McGill, and won the Rhodes Scholarship that took him to Oxford, where he earned a second BA and a PhD in philosophy. He returned to McGill to teach, but has also held professorships at other universities in the U.S., Britain and Germany.
Outside the academic community, Charles is remembered in Montreal for having run unsuccessfully in four federal elections on the NDP ticket. In 1965 he finished second to a political upstart named Pierre Trudeau. The two men were friends who often debated political issues, particularly Quebec’s role as a distinct society.
But it is Charles’ academic accomplishments, outlined in some 300 papers and a dozen books, that won him the Templeton Prize. Through books such as Sources of the Self and the upcoming A Secular Age, he has come to be regarded as one of the most influential philosophers working today. Known for his ability to synthesize disparate ideas, Charles has long argued that “the barriers between science and spirituality are not only ungrounded, but are also crippling.”
“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,” Charles said when receiving the prize at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York. A more formal presentation of the prize will take place at Buckingham Palace in May.
He has also delved deeply into the issue of multiculturalism and the dichotomy between
collective and individual rights, a controversial subject in Canada and Quebec. Brought up in an intellectually stimulating, bilingual household, Charles and his sister, Selwyn House parent and former McGill Chancellor Gretta Chambers, grew up discussing such issues from both sides of the cultural divide.
“Almost everything I have done has been shaped by where I come from,” Charles said when receiving the Templeton prize in New York.
Ms. Chambers accompanied her brother to New York for the presentation ceremony, as did Michael Goldbloom ’69, former Chairman of the Selwyn House Board of Directors and now Vice-Principal, Inter-institutional Relations, at McGill. Michael thanked Charles for his “unique contributions in advancing our understanding of Western modernity, in sharing his insights with students, colleagues and society and most importantly, for his profound and inspiring humanity.”
Charles is also a recipient of the Prix Lon-Grin, a grand officer in the Order of Quebec and a companion of the Order of Canada. After the recent controversy in Herouxville, Charles was drafted by Premier Jean Charest to chair a public commission looking at integration of immigrants into Quebec society.