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The Science & the Big Questions Funding Area supports innovative efforts to address the deepest questions facing humankind. Why are we here? How can we flourish? What are the fundamental structures of reality? What can we know about the nature and purposes of the divine?

In keeping with the Foundation’s motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” we value proposals that exhibit intellectual humility and open-mindedness. We welcome requests from individuals and institutions who are inspired by relentless curiosity, willing to challenge common assumptions, and eager to advance the frontiers of human knowledge.

In addition to supporting academic research on these and similar questions, we support efforts to bring relevant findings to non-specialist audiences. Through a wide range of media — print, digital, broadcast, and film — we seek to raise awareness about cutting-edge discoveries in ways that are clear and probing. In addition, we fund programs that help teachers, journalists, religious leaders, and other professionals apply these discoveries in ways that enrich and extend their work.

Funding Area Themes

The work we support within the Science & the Big Questions Funding Area falls into one (or more) of the following themes.

Fundamental Structures and Laws of Nature

Does nature offer evidence of purpose? What is the nature of space-time? Do we inhabit a multiverse? How did life originate? The fundamental nature and structure of the cosmos remains a deep and profound puzzle. By supporting research on such questions we seek to catalyze discoveries concerning the fundamental laws and structures of nature and to examine their philosophical and theological implications. We support experimental and theoretical research in a range of areas, among them relativity, emergence, cosmology, evolution, origins of life, quantum physics, the nature of space and time, and fundamental questions in mathematics.

The Nature of the Divine

Is there a divine reality? What is the relationship of God to the cosmos? How can scientific discovery inform our theological understanding? Throughout the existence of humankind we have wrestled with the question of whether or not there are dimensions of reality that transcend the purely natural. By supporting multi-disciplinary scientific, theological, and philosophical research, we aim to deepen our understanding of the possibility and purposes of the divine. The Foundation does not privilege any one spiritual or theological tradition. As a result, proposals from any religious tradition are welcome, as are proposals that are not situated within any religious tradition.

The Nature and Potential of the Mind

What are human persons, and what makes them distinctive? What is the relationship between the mind and the body? How can we cultivate valuable qualities of the mind such as creativity and imagination? The human mind is among the most mysterious and potent forces in the cosmos. We support scientific and philosophical research that aims to foster a deeper understanding of the nature and powers of the mind. Topics in this funding area range broadly, including the nature of cognition, consciousness, intentionality, agency and free will, as well as intelligence, prospection, and creativity.

Religion and Spirituality in Human Experience

What is the fundamental nature of religious experience? What triggers experiences of awe and wonder? Do religion and spirituality promote or hinder moral behavior? Religion and spirituality are found across all times and cultures. For many people, religion is a principal source of purpose, meaning, and identity. We support empirical and theoretical research that aims to understand spiritual beliefs, experiences, and practices and their implications for human flourishing. We also encourage work that explores the ways in which spiritual well-being and physical and mental health might be mutually reinforcing.

Life, Love, and Virtue

What does it mean to love? Does optimism foster success? How can we become more generous, grateful, and forgiving? Virtuous character is essential for our individual and collective flourishing. We support empirical research concerning virtues such as generosity, hope, honesty, humility, and thrift, in order to promote a deeper understanding of how these and other virtues are internalized and strengthened, how they advance our well being, and how they shape our sense of meaning and purpose.

Human Sciences
Project Leader: Alan Cooperman
Grantee: Pew Charitable Trusts
Natural Sciences
Project Leader: Sheperd Doeleman, Abraham Loeb
Grantee: Harvard University
Natural Sciences
Project Leader: Max Tegmark, Anthony Aguirre
Grantee: Foundational Questions Institute
Philosophy and Theology
Project Leader: Jay Garfield
Grantee: Smith College
Philosophy and Theology
Project Leader: Robin Collins, Abaz Kryemadhi
Grantee: Messiah College
Public Engagement
Project Leader: Tracy Day, Debra Nir
Grantee: World Science Foundation