The Templeton Foundation: God, Science and Philanthropy

Nathan Schneider in The Nation:

Templeton_logo_sm For decades, sociologist Margaret Poloma struggled against the tone-deafness to spirituality that rules her discipline; she wanted to study prayer, to measure divine love, to “see God as an actor.” In the meantime, having held a tenured post at the University of Akron since 1970, she built a respectable career with a long list of journal articles and books to her name. She became an authority on Pentecostalism and on the family lives of modern women. But all along, Poloma says, “I felt like I was swimming alone upstream.”

That changed in the early 1990s, when she found an ally in David Larson, a psychiatrist who longed to integrate religion into the practice of medicine. He was in the process of founding the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR); what the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is to medicine writ large, the NIHR would be for “the forgotten factor” of faith. In 1995 Larson brought Poloma to a conference organized by his funder: the John Templeton Foundation, established by the eponymous investor who died in July 2008 at 95. “That conference was a magical experience for me,” Poloma remembers. It was there that she met Stephen Post, a bioethicist who would later create the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love with Templeton money. With Post she began receiving grants from the foundation. By 2007 she was co-director of the Flame of Love Project, administering $2.3 million from Templeton to establish “a new interdisciplinary science of Godly Love,” with a focus on the Pentecostal tradition.

Other scholars aren't quite sure what the “science of Godly Love” means, exactly. Anthea Butler, a historian of Pentecostalism at the University of Pennsylvania, remembers that when Poloma's Flame of Love request for proposals appeared, “nobody in the field could figure out what the hell she was talking about.” Many applied anyway. “She went from being an outsider to someone with tons of money who can set the terms of discussion,” says Butler.

More here.