Theoretical astrophysicist Martin J Rees, Master of Trinity College and former president of the Royal Society, the highest leadership position within British science, has just received the 2011 Templeton Prize - the annual award from the John Templeton Foundation to award individuals who in the late Sir Templeton's words could be branded entrepreneurs of the spirit.

The 1 million-pound ($1.6 million) prize goes each year to a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.

Announcing the prize, the Foundation said that several questions raised by Rees in the course of his research into universal mysteries such as the big bang, black holes and gamma ray bursters are reshaping crucial philosophical and theological considerations that strike at the core of life, fostering the kind of spiritual progress that the Foundation seeks to reward.

During his tenure at the helm of the Royal Society, Rees directed the focus of the scientific body on myriad issues pertaining to nature and creation - ranging from the origins of life on Earth to the potential of extra-terrestrial life. Despite shunning any form of personal religious belief, Rees was chosen for the highest award in the realm of spirituality for the questions that he inspires. As Robert Williams, president of the International Astronomical Union noted in his recommendation for Rees for the Templeton prize, He is very unusual in that he constantly touches on spiritual themes without dealing explicitly with religion.

Speaking on the choice, John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D., president and chairman of the Foundation said, By peering into the farthest reaches of the galaxies, Martin Rees has opened a window on our very humanity, inviting everyone to wrestle with the most fundamental questions of our nature and existence.