South African Cosmologist Wins the 34th Templeton Religion Prize

George F.R. Ellis, 64, a South African cosmologist and mathematician is the winner of the 2004 Templeton Prize, arguably the most prestigious award for advancing understanding of religion and spirituality.

He is educated at the University of Cape Town and Cambridge University, will formally receive his award May 5 from the Duke of Edinburgh at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London.

The Templeton Prize was established by the U.S.-born investor Sir John Templeton to honor prominent religious figures. The first Templeton Prize laureate in 1973 was Mother Teresa. Just in recent years, the prize has broadened its scope to encompass spirituality and the growing field of religion and science.

With the honor of winning the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, the award's full title, comes an award of 795,000 pounds sterling, which is the largest annual monetary prizes given to individuals.

Ellis planned to donate some of the prize money to projects supporting the education of black youths in Cape Town, South Africa, and to a national campaign to provide a base cash grant to all South Africans." Some fundamental problems are still not being addressed," Ellis said in an interview prior to Wednesday's official announcement at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York.

Ellis teaches applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town and is a specialist in general relativity theory. He was born in Johannesburg and received a Bachelor of Science (Honors) degree in physics with distinction from the University of Cape Town in 1960. In 1964 he received his Ph.D. in applied mathematics and theoretical physics from Cambridge University.

At Wednesday's announcement, Ellis said he believes that such dialogue "fundamentally shapes the way we see the universe and how we understand our own existence." "The way in which science and religion by and large complement each other is becoming ever clearer," he said, "as are the natures of the various points of tension between them, and some possible resolutions of those tensions."

What make Ellis distinct with recent Templeton winners is: He is best known as a social critic not afraid to criticize either the white-minority government in his home country that gave up power a decade ago or the current president, Thabo Mbeki, who Ellis believes has not lived up to the standards set by his predecessor, Nelson Mandela. He alsocited South Africa's recent history as a key example of "confounding the calculus of rationality."

The political is bound to the religious and even has implications for science, Ellis said, noting that individuals as well as communities need the balance of scientific rationality with the hope of religious faith. "Faith and hope fit into a full human life," he said.

"There were very many times in the past when it was rational to give up all hope for the future -- to assume that the nation would decay into a racial holocaust that never happened," he continued. "It did not occur because of the transformative actions of those marvelous leaders Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela."

Two of the books Ellis has co-authored reveal the unusual breadth of his thought and concerns: "The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time," a 1973 volume written with Hawking, is a seminal work in the field of cosmology, while "The Squatter Problem in the Western Cape," a 1977 work co-written with three other South Africans, was a study on homelessness and a plea for a policy change by the ruling white Nationalist government.