The foundation, based in West Conshohocken, announced the award early Tuesday.
Gleiser, 60, a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., is the first winner born in South America. He is from Brazil.
The prize, established in 1972, is awarded annually by the foundation, started by Sir John Templeton, a Tennessee-born mutual fund developer who believed that study and work involving religion were ignored by the Nobel Prizes and warranted recognition.
Gleiser promotes a view that science alone cannot explain the mysteries of the universe, and that philosophy and spirituality must be included in any exploration of the unknown. His doctrine of “humancentrism” argues that modern science has returned human beings to “the metaphorical center” of creation 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.”
Gleiser “embodies the values” that inspired Templeton to establish the prize and create the foundation, its president, Heather Templeton Dill, said in a statement. “Professor Gleiser’s work displays an undeniable joy of exploration. He maintains the same sense of awe and wonderment that he first experienced as a child on the Copacabana beach, gazing at the horizon or the starry night sky, curious about what lies beyond,” the statement read.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Gleiser was raised as a Conservative Jew in an influential family. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in 1981 and a master’s degree the next year from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Both degrees are in physics. In 1986 Gleiser earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from King’s College London.
He describes himself as agnostic, but sees atheism as inconsistent with scientific methods. “You may not believe in God, but to affirm its nonexistence with certainty is not scientifically consistent,” Gleiser said in a 2018 interview in Scientific American.
Gleiser’s research examines the link between the universe as a whole and its smallest material constituents. He also studies the origin of life on Earth and the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. He is the author of five books in English and has written hundreds of essays published in newspapers, magazines, and online.
In 2016, Gleiser established the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth, which advocates for dialogue and collaboration between the sciences and humanities in academia. The institute has received grant funding from the Templeton Foundation.