Jane Goodall Wins 2021 Templeton Prize: 'Religion Entered Into Me'

Jane Goodall smiles, Photo by AP.

(RNS) — Sixty years after she stepped into the jungle to observe chimpanzees in their natural habitat, Jane Goodall, the world-renowned primatologist and conservationist, has won the 2021 Templeton Prize.

Goodall, 87, is only the fourth woman to win the award, established by the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton to honor those who use science to explore humankind's place and purpose within the universe. She follows Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, who won the $1.5 million prize last year for leading the Human Genome Project to its completion.

Besides her scientific achievements studying chimpanzees, Goodall has become a champion of conservation and an advocate for the ethical treatment of animals. Through two nonprofits she has founded, she travels the world empowering young people to start projects to improve the lives of humans, animals and the environment.

"Her discoveries have profoundly altered the world's view of animal intelligence and enriched our understanding of humanity in a way that is both humbling and exalting," said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation and the granddaughter of its founder. "Ultimately, her work exemplifies the kind of humility, spiritual curiosity, and discovery that my grandfather, John Templeton, wrote and spoke about during his life."

As a girl, Goodall, who grew up in England, fell in love with the natural world and with animals in particular. At 26, and without a college degree yet, she entered the Gombe National Forest in Tanzania and began training an empathic eye on the life and ecosystem of the chimpanzee, humans' closest living relative.

She was the first to observe chimpanzees could use tools, which were previously believed to be exclusive to humans. She also showed they have individual personalities and are capable of creating long-term bonds.

She later returned to England and earned a doctorate from Cambridge.

Her conviction that humans are part of nature, not separate from it, led her to develop her own unique cosmology. She has said she believes in a higher power, what she has called a divine intelligence.

Religion News Service talked to Goodall on Zoom ahead of the Templeton announcement. Goodall sat in the attic of her childhood home surrounded by a bookcase featuring a framed photo of David Greybeard, the first chimpanzee who trusted her and allowed her to come close enough to observe him, as well a photo of her mother, Margaret, who encouraged and assisted her on her travels to Africa.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your religious upbringing like and where did it take you?

My grandfather was a Congregationalist minister. We have the Congregational church in Bournemouth that is very open-minded and very inclusive. We weren't a particularly religious family. We went to church sometimes. But when I was 16, I fell passionately and platonically in love with the minister of the church, who was Welsh. Religion entered into me. It felt like I had a secret understanding of something other people perhaps didn't share. But I had no compulsion to share it. 

I do remember the first place I set foot on African soil was Cape Town. It was beautiful and exciting until I saw on the back of every seat and at the door to every restaurant it said, "White people only." I wasn't brought up to judge people by the color of their skin, their religion or anything else. So I was pleased to leave Cape Town. 

After I'd begun to succeed with the chimps, that's when I had time to pause and that's when I developed a really strong feeling of spiritual connection with the natural world.

What I love today is how science and religion are coming together and more minds are seeing purpose behind the universe and intelligence. Einstein did. And my good friend Francis Collins. 

You said once that you never set out to be a scientist. What did you want to be?

A naturalist who lived with animals and observed them and wrote books about them. When I was growing up, women weren't that kind of scientist at all. There weren't really any men living out in the field with animals. Not the way I wanted to.

Where did you get that image of the naturalist?

Reading "Doctor Dolittle" books, "Tarzan of the Apes" (by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs). We didn't have films in those days. 

How did you figure out what you needed to study out there in the jungle as a young woman?

That was easy. All my life I watched animals: squirrels and birds and insects out in the garden here. In Bournemouth, you've got cliffs above the sea. They're pretty wild — so you could just get away from people out in nature. I learned patience, waiting, watching, slowly knowing the animals would lose their fear of you. 

(In Africa) I wrote in my journal way into the night. It started out with notebooks and a pencil and paraffin lamp. We couldn't even afford a typewriter. I was always accompanied by a toad who came around to get the flies who came to the light.

When you went to college, did those practices serve you well?

Well, when I got to university I was told I'd done everything wrong. I shouldn't have given the chimps names; it was scientific to number them. I couldn't talk about them having personalities, minds and emotions. Those were unique to us. I was actually taught in the early 1960s, that the difference between us and animals was one of kind. We were elevated onto a pinnacle, separate from all the others. But my dog as a child had already taught me that wasn't true. You can't share your life in a meaningful way with a dog, a cat, a guinea pig, a rabbit, a horse, a bird, a pig and not know that, of course, we're not the only beings with personalities, minds and emotions.

I was also told by these same professors that to be a good scientist you have to be objective. Therefore you cannot have empathy with what you're studying. That is so wrong. It's having empathy with what you're studying that gives you those "aha" moments — "Yes, I think I know why he or she is doing that." Then you can put on the scientific hat, which I learned at Cambridge, which I love, and say, "Let me prove that my intuition is right or not."

You've said you don't want to explain life entirely through science, which is an odd thing to say as a scientist. What do you mean?

I don't think we can. We've got finite minds. And the universe is infinite. When science says, "We've got it all worked out — there's the Big Bang that created the universe." Well, what created the Big Bang? Our minds can't do it. What's fascinating me now is the news being uncovered about these unidentified flying objects the Navy has been recording all these years. It's really exciting.

What advice would you give to a 10-year-old wanting to become a scientist?

I would tell them you mustn't be cold. You must have empathy. It's the lack of empathy for subjects that's led to so much cruelty to animals. Now, we're even learning how these trees communicate. It's such a fascinating world to live in. There's always something new to learn.

The Templeton Foundation is interested in ways of reconciling science and religion. Is that something you believe in?

I think it's happening. When more scientists are saying there's an intelligence behind the universe, that's basically what the Templeton Foundation is about: We don't live in only a materialistic world. Francis Collins drove home that in every single cell in your body there's a code of several billion instructions. Could that be chance? No. There's no actual reason why things should be the way they are, and chance mutations couldn't possibly lead to the complexity of life on earth. This blurring between science and religion is happening more and more. Scientists are more willing to talk about it.

Do you have any practices that ground you and allow you to open up to the spiritual realm?

Well, nature of course. Trees. Here I'm lucky. We have a lovely garden and every day I spend half an hour under my favorite tree that I used to climb as a child. I'm joined by a robin and blackbird. The robin today actually perched on my knee. It's the same thing as how I got used to the chimps. Being in the same place, not moving too fast, not frightening them. 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

Members of Black communities across the U.S. have disproportionately fallen sick or died from the virus, so some church leaders are using their influence and trusted reputations to fight back by preaching from the pulpit.
Dr. Eboo Patel, Founder, and President of IFYC offered this comment as we remember Juneteenth this year: “Slavery and racism are amongst America’s original sins. Juneteenth marks an important step towards redemption, and so we observe it as a sacred day of remembrance and reflection.” 
Truly, how long must we wait till we achieve our full and complete freedom? And when I say “freedom” I do not mean the theoretical kind, or the type where million-dollar corporations drape their logos with the colors of the rainbow to express a monetary tolerance.
On Thursday, June 10, 2021, Krista Tippett and Eboo Patel discussed the value of courageous pluralism and deep listening at a pivotal moment of our nation's collective formation. How can we equip young people to best address the needs of our time and beyond—truly cultivating the understanding that we belong to one another?
Interfaith coalitions have long taken up racial justice causes, most famously in the civil rights movements of the '60s, Yet, interfaith organizations themselves have often not taken racial equity work seriously.
The conversation among participants focused on past, present and future possibilities of interfaith collaboration at HBCUs and among Black and African American students on other college campuses.
These women are influencing so many in their community by being beacons of the values they hold dear, and that is an incredible way to guide a community. 
While pursuing a master’s degree in Buddhist studies, Han decided to focus her thesis on documenting the nuances of Asian American Buddhists, a community that seemed almost nonexistent, she wrote.
He sees potential for future science-informed partnerships between the government and faith communities to tackle the pandemic.
What has happened in our institution provides a template for similar institutions who may be going through some challenges in establishing an interfaith program. It shows that being true to one’s faith and being inclusive are not opposites.
I hear my sisters and brothers calling out in cacophony, “Aint I a Human?” When Sojourner Truth considered the ways in which white women were revered and protected; when she witnessed the ways their gentility and femininity were affirmed and nurtured; when she experienced the contrast in how she was treated relative to those who shared her gender but not her color, she was compelled to ask, “Aint I a Woman?”
The following interview features Imam Makram El-Amin, who has led the Masjid An-Nur (Mosque of Light) in Minneapolis for 25 years and serves as executive director of Al-Maa’uun, the mosque’s community outreach organization.
The following interview features Anthony Cruz Pantojas, co-chair of the Latinx Humanist Alliance, an affiliate of the American Humanist Association.
The following interview features Micah Fries, director of programs at the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network and director of engagement at GlocalNet.
The church first started offering vaccine doses in January in an effort to boost the vaccination rates in New York City’s Black and Hispanic communities.
This article is part of a series called Faith in the Field that explores responses to Covid-19—including vaccination efforts—within different faith communities. 
Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, talks about the Catholic response to the pandemic.
Fred Davie joins Alia Bilal, Anthea Butler, Adam Russell Taylor and Eric Lewis Williams in a conversation that gets to the heart of how interfaith cooperation can be a part of accountability, justice, and reconciliation in America’s next chapter.
Two thousand volunteers of diverse faiths will engage people through their religious communities.
"Over the years, people have asked if I was 'called' to be a rabbi, and the truth is I don't know, but what I do know is I did listen to an inner voice which I now believe was a holy voice. That holy voice led me to listen even when I doubted..."
The USS Olympia is home to the Difficult Journey Home exhibit that opens May 28, and a historical marker will be unveiled during the Museum’s Memorial Day ceremony on Monday, May 31. Independence Seaport Museum

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.