The John Templeton Foundation mourns the passing of the Reverend Canon Dr. Michael Bourdeaux, champion of religious liberty, founder of the Keston Institute in England, and winner of the 1984 Templeton Prize. He died one year ago today — in the early hours of March 29, 2021 — at the age of 87.
Born in Cornwall and educated at Oxford University, Bourdeaux went to Moscow in 1959 as part of the first wave of British exchange students to the Soviet Union. In 1960, he was ordained in the Anglican priesthood.
Michael Bourdeaux devoted his life to defending the rights of people persecuted for their religious beliefs, particularly in Eastern Europe. He received the Templeton Prize in recognition of his efforts to expose the systematic destruction of religion in Iron Curtain nations during the Cold War and to defend the rights of people in these countries to worship as they chose.
Today, we remember Bourdeaux and reflect on his remarks at the Templeton Prize award ceremony in 1984:
“The compelling conclusion to this is that for the Soviet Union to grant real religious liberty would bring world peace substantially closer. This thought horrifies those who hold power in the Kremlin, but the reality might not harm them so much as they think.
The tactics need careful thought, but I am certain that the eventual change of the Soviet Union into a country which has the right to believe will make it a safer place for its own people and rulers, as well as making the world a safer place for everyone. That is why the work of Keston College, very small though it is in a world context, does stand on the front line.
In the very truest sense, the Templeton Prize has been awarded not to me nor to the College, but to believers under Communism. Theirs is the ‘progress in religion’. The Prize goes especially to those who have sacrificed liberty — and some even life itself— for their faith. It is for them that I speak. Insofar as I have the power and insight to do so, it is their hopes, their sorrows and their joys which I have placed before you this afternoon. God bless them and God bless you all.”
— Michael Bourdeaux, 1984. Read the full speech.