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Biola University gets $3-million grant for think tank

Templeton Foundation money will be used to explore Christian perspectives on various contemporary issues.

January 05, 2012|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

Biola University, an evangelical Christian school in La Mirada, has received a $3-million grant to run a think tank on contemporary Christian perspectives on such topics as neuroscience, psychology and politics.

The grant comes from the Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation, which was founded by its namesake, the late Wall Street mutual funds pioneer, to help explore spirituality and links to other areas of scholarship.

The award, the largest academic grant in Biola's history, will help its new Center for Christian Thought bring together eight scholars each semester — four from its faculty and four from elsewhere — over three years to research and debate "important questions facing our culture," said center Director Gregg Ten Elshof. Starting next fall, yearlong themes will include the implications of neuroscience for the soul and how to foster civil discourse in the rough and tumble world of American politics, said Ten Elshof, an associate professor of philosophy.

The Templeton money, he added, "is allowing us to do exactly what we dreamed of doing with the center. We are thrilled."

Biola, which enrolls about 6,200 students, began as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles 104 years ago and moved to La Mirada in 1959. It has expanded beyond theology to offer accredited degrees in liberal arts, business, education and other subjects, while maintaining what it describes as a biblically centered education.

Michael Murray, Templeton's executive vice president of programs, said he hoped the Biola grant would help develop "the thought leadership" among conservative evangelical academics in the way that Roman Catholic universities have for their constituency. He commended Biola for being willing to open its doors to Christian scholars who may not follow evangelical beliefs and may prove controversial. Some other Christian colleges are "not typically open to that type of scholarly engagement," Murray said.

The John Templeton Foundation supports "discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality," according to its website. It is best known for its annual Templeton prize, a $1.6-million award that goes to leading figures who advance spiritual understanding; among its winners have been Mother Teresa, Russian dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and a number of prominent scientists.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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