A North Carolina man has won the $100,000 top prize in a worldwide competition to choose the year’s best inspirational essay. The John Templeton Foundation sponsored the 2004 Power of Purpose Awards. The organization is best known for bestowing the $1.4 million Templeton Prize, a yearly award honoring individuals who have done research on spiritual matters.
The winning essay – by entrepreneur, theology student and former software executive August Turak -- was a nine-page, true story about a monk whose kindness and simplicity inadvertently challenge the author's assumptions about life, love, and the nature of God. Four second-place winners each received $50,000. In all, 19 essayists were awarded a total of $500,000.
“What was amazing,” said project director Michael Reagan, “was the broad spectrum…you know, from basically a short biography of [19th century physicist] Michael Faraday…to a monk in South Carolina who held an umbrella on Christmas Eve…to an illiterate lady who, in her 60s, wanted to learn to read because she wanted to write poetry.”
The essay-writing contest was announced earlier this year. It was mentioned in several prominent international news and literary magazines, and organizers also relied heavily on the Internet to spread word about the competition. The guidelines were rather broad. Contestants could submit a story about themselves or someone they had met. They could send in a work of fiction or a report they had filed for a newspaper or magazine. They could even submit an editorial – and, indeed, many did.
In the end, more than 7,000 essays arrived via email at the John Templeton Foundation. Michael Reagan said they all affirmed a basic belief held by the foundation's founder. “Sir John Templeton is a great believer in the positive notion of purpose,” he said, “that man can act on behalf of mankind and do good in the world, that we are all imbued with a sense of purpose…it's just a question of finding it.”
Mr. Reagan did concede that $100,000 was a great deal lot of money for a nine-page essay. “Well, that's Sir John,” he said. “He doesn't do anything in a small way. You know, the great thing about this guy, I mean, he's 92, he's very successful in business, obviously, and then took his money and created this foundation, and the foundation is mainly interested in the convergence of science and religion, and promoting the idea of the convergence of science and religion. But he also has other areas of interest, and he puts his money where his ideas are. He doesn't just talk about it.”
John Templeton is a native of Tennessee who made a fortune in the stock market and then became a full-time philanthropist. He is now a British citizen living in the Bahamas.
All but two of this year's winners came from the United States, but Michael Reagan says he and his colleagues are looking at ways to encourage the participation of more people from other countries. They also want to ensure that the judging does not reflect an overly Western understanding of the power of purpose. It isn't clear whether the essay-writing contest will become an annual event, but Michael Reagan says there is definitely interest in having another one.
The John Templeton Foundation has posted this year’s 19 winning essays on the Internet -- at www.powerofpurpose.org -- and Michael Reagan says the organization plans to publish them, as well, in a book.