The prize, which includes a monetary award of £1.1 million ($1.45 million), recognizes a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. A leading proponent of the view that science, philosophy, and spirituality are complementary expressions of humanity's need to embrace mystery and the unknown, Gleiser is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Gleiser received a conservative Hebrew school education and earned a BS in physics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, a master's in physics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and a PhD in theoretical physics from King's College London. Over thirty-five years, his research has examined a range of topics, from the behavior of quantum fields and elementary particles, to early-universe cosmology, the dynamics of phase transitions, astrobiology, and new fundamental measures of entropy and complexity based on information theory. His writings propose that modern science has brought humankind back to the metaphorical center of creation — his doctrine of "humancentrism" — by revealing the improbable uniqueness of our planet and the exceptional rarity of humans as intelligent beings capable of understanding the importance of being alive. This inversion of Copernicanism, he argues, prompts the need for a new cosmic morality where the sacredness of life is extended to the planet and all living beings.
In 2016, Gleiser established the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth to advance and transform constructive dialogue between the sciences and the humanities in academia and the public sphere. Supported in part by a grant from the Templeton Foundation, the institute sponsors dialogues and workshops across the United States featuring scientists, humanists, and spiritual leaders.
"Professor Gleiser embodies the values that inspired my grandfather to establish the Templeton Prize and to create the John Templeton Foundation," said the foundation's president, Heather Templeton Dill. "Two values which were especially important for him, and the focus of various foundation grants, are the pursuit of joy in all aspects of life, and the profound human experience of awe."
"The path to scientific understanding and scientific exploration is not just about the material part of the world," said Gleiser, the first Latin American to be awarded the prize. "My mission is to bring back to science, and to the people that are interested in science, this attachment to the mysterious, to make people understand that science is just one other way for us to engage with the mystery of who we are."