If this was a Brain of Britain contest one could well ask what in common has the chief zoologist to the 1925 Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic; a professor of zoology in an Oxford college and the pioneer in the research work of religious experience?
The answer would be of course, the one same person, Sir Alister Hardy, the recipient of the 1985 Templeton Prize.
Sir Alister has had a most distinguished career beginning in 1920 when he was awarded the Christopher Welch Biological Research Scholarship leading to several honours culminating not in 1940 when he was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society, but in 1957 when he was Knighted for his work in marine biology.
However, when in 1969 Sir Alister founded the Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College in Oxford he fast became a leading figure in the new science of Empirical Theology by applying scientific methods to the study of varieties of religious experience.
Sir Alister is concerned not with religious institutions or theological dogmas, but with religion as something very deep in human nature. He tells that the side of man which experiences spiritual and religious feelings is being stifled and repressed by the materialistic culture of today. Sir Alister sees religion in its different forms as an important part of human natural history but at the same time little understood. This he is seeking to remedy both by his writings and by his founding of the Religious Experience Research Unit.
Some years ago Chiara Lubich of the Focolare movement wrote after receiving the Templeton Prize that the impact of the prize on her life and work was like bringing a lighted lamp from under a table and setting it on the table. A number of us are aware of how the Focolare movement has grown in the intervening years. How it has brought much spiritual happiness and joy to so many.
I am sure that the work of the Religious Experience Research Unit will blossom forth and that over the next period of years we will all benefit from the research it is undertaking.
As those researchers at the Oxford Unit continue to explore the meaning of religious experience for mankind other people will take note of their findings.
This has already happened to a certain degree. In 1979 Sir Alister published The Spiritual Nature of Man in which he hoped evidence would convince skeptics of the intellectual world that man’s religious feelings are indeed part of his true nature.
But the presence of so many here today in this historic Guildhall is again evidence of the progress that is being made and of the keen interest there is developing today to penetrate further our spiritual understanding not only of ourselves but of our knowledge and love of God.
All around us there is technological advance following on the years of patient research. It is therefore imperative that spiritual progress gains momentum to enable us to achieve an even better relationship with God than that which we have today.
If the work of the Religious Experience Research Unit founded by Sir Alister can help us or even future generations to attain that relationship it will have achieved much.
In 1951 Sir Alister delivered the Essex Hall Lecture here in London under the title of Science and the Quest for God. I happen to know this is of particular interest to Mr. John Templeton who founded this prize. Today in sterling terms it is the most valuable annual prize in the world, and the reason is that Mr. Templeton is a firm believer that progress in religion is more important for mankind, even more than other forms of progress combined. It is worthy of note that theologians like Prof. Thomas F. Torrance of Edinburgh have devoted much of their time to the new theological science. That scientists like the astrophysicist Prof. John Polkingthorne of Cambridge and Dr. Arthur Peacock the molecular- biologist from Clare College, Cambridge, have both become clergymen in the Church of England. It is obvious that much is happening not only in this country but also in the United States and in Australia to bridge the gap that was permitted to exist between theology and science. We here today are witnesses to that.
The Templeton Foundation somehow ascertained that Sir Alister’s birthday was on 10th February and was able to telephone him at his home in Oxford that the panel of judges from the major religions of the world had named him the recipient of the Templeton Prize for 1985.
We are indeed happy that some of them are here today. The Rt. Revd. Michael Mann, who is Dean of Windsor, and Dr. Harry Kuch, a Presbyterian layman from the brotherly city of Philadelphia.
From among the many nominations these judges have named Sir Alister and it gives me much pleasure to call upon Dr. Crawford Knox to deliver Sir Alister’s address.