Former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has been awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize.
The prize, valued at £1.1 million, is awarded each year to “a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension”. Previous winners include Jean Vanier, Mother Teresa and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Jennifer Simpson, chair of the Templeton Foundation’s Board of Trustees, said that the award recognised Lord Sacks’s “response to the challenge posed by radicalisation and extremism.”
A prolific writer and a contributor to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, Lord Sacks has written several books on the subject of religion, pluralism and conflict, most recently Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.
He has said that extremism must be met with “a message of love as powerful as the message being delivered by the preachers of hate,” adding, “it really has to speak to young people and we have to use the same social networking, the same technology as the extremists and we’ve got to do it as well and better than they do.”
Simpson said that Sacks “has always been ahead of his time and, thanks to his leadership, the world can look to the future with hope, something we are very much in need of right now.”
At a press conference in London this morning, where the award was announced, Lord Sacks said: “Religion, or more precisely, religions, should have a voice in the public conversation within the societies of the West, as to how to live, how to construct a social order, how to enhance human dignity, honour human life, and indeed protect life as a whole.
“Each religion, and each strand within each religion, will have to undertake this work, because if religion is not part of the solution it will assuredly be a large part of the problem as voices become ever more strident, and religious extremists ever more violent.”
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord George Carey, who nominated Sacks for the award, wrote of him: “There are public intellectuals and religious leaders, but few who are both at the same time. There are academic scholars and popular communicators, but he is both, reaching out far beyond his own constituency through the spoken, written and broadcast word.”
Lord Sacks was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. He has published more than 25 books, on subjects including the ethics of the market and the relationship between science and religion.
The prize will be formally awarded at a public ceremony in London on May 26.
Read more: Jonathan Sacks writes for the Catholic Herald on Why the religious kill.