updated 3/17/2004 1:47:52 PM ET 2004-03-17T18:47:52

A South African academic who studies the relationship between faith and science and has worked as an advocate for the homeless won a religion prize Wednesday that is billed as the world’s richest annual award.

George Ellis has received the honor known as the Templeton Prize, which is presented by the John Templeton Foundation of Radnor, Pa. The prize is 795,000 British pounds, or more than $1.4 million.

Ellis, 64, is a professor of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town who specializes in general relativity theory. He also is the co-author with Nancey Murphy of “On the Moral Nature of the Universe,” which emphasizes the importance of examining ethics together with science.

“The way in which science and religion by and large complement each other is becoming ever clearer, as are the natures of the various points of tension between them and some possible resolutions of those tensions,” Ellis said. “It is a good time to look at these issues.”

Ellis, a theoretical cosmologist, is also the co-author of “The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time,” which was written with astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and has become a standard reference work in the field.

A Quaker, Ellis became an advocate for homeless blacks and others in apartheid-era South Africa, and wrote analyses of the problem that he said helped influence the later development of a national housing policy.

Ellis plans to donate part of his award money to programs that fight poverty and promote education in South Africa.

The announcement of the honor, which is called the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, was made in New York. However, Ellis will formally receive the prize May 5 at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London.

The Templeton Foundation, which sponsors many science and religion projects, was created by mutual funds entrepreneur Sir John M. Templeton.

The first Templeton Prize was given to Mother Teresa in 1973.

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