NEW YORK — Like many of his contemporaries, Michael Novak went from anti-war activist in the 1960s to conservative in the 1980s. The Catholic scholar's theological odyssey won him the $1-million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
In announcing the award Tuesday, administrators of the prize praised him as a pioneer in the theology of economics. Best known for leading lay opposition to the U.S. bishops' critique of the American economy, Novak was chosen by a nine-judge international panel that included former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
"The great myth of the 20th Century was for progressive people to imagine that the state was the engine of their hopes," Novak said Tuesday.
The Templeton Prize was established in 1972 by investment manager John M. Templeton to recognize individuals who advance the world's understanding of religion. It is the largest monetary prize for achievement in any field.
Previous winners include Mother Teresa, the Rev. Billy Graham and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Last year's winner was former Watergate figure Charles Colson, who later founded a prison ministry.
Novak, whose writings include "The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism," "Belief and Unbelief" and "The Experience of Nothingness," holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
In the 1960s, he was a strong critic of the Vietnam War and an advocate of the federal government's anti-poverty programs.
Novak said his plans for the prize money include establishing merit scholarships at Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass., where he received a bachelor's degree, and aiding Notre Dame College in Bangladesh. His younger brother, Richard, died in Bangladesh during a Hindu-Muslim riot in 1964 while on a missionary assignment as a Catholic priest.
The Templeton Prize will be awarded at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 4.