(Photo of Jane in her family home garden in Bournemouth, England by Tim Cole for the Templeton Prize.)
2021 Templeton Prize winner Jane Goodall, 87, is an unparalleled figure in the world of science and conservation. Her work studying chimpanzees began in Africa in 1960 and in the decades since she has had a profound impact on how the world perceives animal intelligence, the Earth’s ecosystem, and the role of humanity within it.
She won the 2021 Templeton Prize, the largest single award of her lifetime, in honor of this extraordinary career, which has been rooted in and sustained by her exceptional scientific and spiritual curiosity. Raised in a Christian household, Dr. Goodall fashioned her own faith in the rich and awe-inspiring forests of East Africa.
Dr. Goodall recently sat down with us to reflect on the powerful beliefs and experiences that have shaped her life, career, and the discoveries that have made her the unique and beloved figure she is today.
She told us how her journey began with a caring family, and an intense love for animals. She sat for hours in a chicken coop one day in order to learn how hens laid eggs, a foundational experience without which she may have never ended up in Tanzania studying chimpanzee societies.
Today, she can reflect on how her life journey has been about far more than scientific advancement, as groundbreaking as all of her work was. Her journey has been a spiritual one as well, that informs her worldview today of how humans interact with the world around them.
What Does Dr. Jane Goodall Believe? A ‘Spiritual Power in Every Living Thing’
“When I was in Gombe, I felt very, very close to a great spiritual power,” she says. “I felt this spiritual power in every living thing. We call it our soul. Well if we have a soul, then that spark of energy is in chimpanzees, they have souls. And the trees, they have a soul, too. They’ve got a spark of that divine energy.”
Dr. Goodall’s formative years spent in the Tanzanian rain forest, a rich sanctuary of life, became a classroom to better understand how life on Earth and even human society functions in every corner of the planet. It taught her that life is a continuum, and that every creature, no matter how small, possesses a certain value, and even intelligence.
“The most important part of being in the rainforest,” she told us, “is the understanding of the interconnection, that every little species has a role to play. I like to think of this tapestry of life in the forest. If this little species is removed, then a thread is removed from the tapestry.”
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down her busy travel schedule, Dr. Goodall at first despaired at her inability to inspire the next generation of scientists, conservationists and activists around the world. But quickly the 87-year-old found herself more in demand than ever, every day recording videos, podcasts, and joining conferences that have reached millions around the world, touching them with her irresistible blend of curiosity, wry humility, and wisdom.
The Templeton Prize is proud to honor Dr. Jane Goodall’s lifelong scientific and spiritual curiosity, and her unrelenting effort to awaken a sense of awe, responsibility, and reverence for nature in all of us. You can watch her accept the Prize from John Templeton Foundation President Heather Templeton Dill here, and watch more videos featuring some of her favorite keepsakes here.
- Watch Dr. Goodall’s beautiful reflection on the “spiritual force” she discovered in the forests of Africa
- Sign up for an invite to celebrate (virtually) with Dr. Jane
- Watch her accept the Prize from Heather Templeton Dill
- Read about Dr. Goodall’s enormous impact over a 60-year career — and see amazing photos of her time with primates
- Meet the remarkable panel of judges of the 2021 Templeton Prize
- Watch videos showcasing past laureates of the “world’s most interesting prize”
- Read the announcement of the $1.5 million award, the single largest prize of her career
- Read Dr. Jane Goodall’s acceptance address reflecting on ‘how little we know, how eager to learn’
- Learn from Dr. Jane how to hoot like a chimpanzee