Biography of Charles L. Harper Jr.



Interview and Lecture

Charles L. Harper, Jr., D.Phil., is an executive strategist in the conceptualization, design and execution of high-impact projects in philanthropy, higher education and business.  He has designed, developed and overseen over two hundred projects across a range of different subjects involving partnerships with distinguished persons, institutions, organizations and networks worldwide (for example, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Berkeley, Duke, Penn, Oxford, Cambridge, the Ecole Normale Superieure, the University of Vienna, the University of Peking, the Royal Society, the Academy of Athens, the British Academy, the Library of Congress, the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, the Indian Institute for Advanced Study Bangalore, the Isaac Newton Mathematics Institute, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences).  

He presently serves as a senior fellow of both the Human Rights Foundation and MIT’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship.  A course instructor at the Aspen Institute, he has been an advisor and “vision circle member” to the X-Prize Foundation, and sits on the Advisory Council of MicroVest and the Advisory Board of the Journal of Enterprise Solutions to Poverty linked with the Judge School of Business at Cambridge University.  He is widely known as a visionary strategic thinker and inspiring speaker across a variety of topics. See:  Projects, Publications, Interview and Lecture

From 1996 to 2009, he served as Senior Vice President, Chief Strategist and Executive Director of the John Templeton Foundation.  His primary responsibilities were in the areas of strategic leadership and planning, program design and development, vision casting, philanthropic networks development, and talent scouting. Harper instituted innovative entrepreneurial practices in grant making, creating more than $200 million in grant-based programs ranging widely from the study of forgiveness and reconciliation and enterprise-based solutions for poverty to projects on foundational questions in physics and cosmology and other scientific topics in biochemistry, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, medicine, scientific & technological creativity, and the philosophy of science.   He created the San Marino seminar series as well as the Humble Approach Initiative, jointly a more-than-decade long series of more than 40 high level international research seminars. 

For example, Harper created a VIP seminar hosted at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and chaired by the Nobelist Baruch Blumberg on the occasion on Freeman Dyson’s 85th birthday.  The topical focus was: “Exceptional Creativity in Science & Technology.”  The project will result in a publication by Oxford University Press aiming to advance understanding of the history and design of very high creativity institutions and environments. 

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With colleague Barnaby Marsh, he co-founded the Philanthropic Leadership Network, a series of VIP seminars hosted in the Bahamas at the Lyford Cay Club involving select groups of philanthropic leaders & visionaries. 

In 2008 he was honored by a National Humanities Medal awarded at the White House to the John Templeton Foundation for projects he developed to innovate course teaching in the humanities focused on the topic of freedom.

In 2010 Harper assisted the Dallas-based entrepreneur and private equity merchant banker Randy Best to explore Asian emerging markets, serving as Chancellor for International Distance Learning and SVP for Global Programs of Best’s major international venture: the Whitney International University System.

He recently led a project of the Philanthropy Roundtable focused on developing strategy for philanthropists and business leaders seeking to advance the quality, impact and accessibility of graduate business education worldwide with special focus on innovation in entrepreneurship education. He is presently engaged in a major project to design new academic institutions focused on hyper-productivity in technology innovation entrepreneurship.

In 1999, Harper served as the founding Chairman of Geneva Global, Inc., an innovative philanthropic organization that subsequently has made more than $80M in grants worldwide within the developing world initiated and developed by a distinguished philanthropic family.  ( )

Initially trained in engineering at Princeton University (BSE, 1980), Harper has professional research expertise in planetary science, astrophysics and cosmology.  He obtained his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford (Balliol College) for a thesis on the nature of time in cosmology (1988). He also holds the Diploma in Theology from Oxford (1988, Squire-Marriot Scholar) and a Certificate of Special Studies in Management and Administration from Harvard University (1997).   Additional studies include certificates earned from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (1982), and the Jagiellonian University, Krakow Poland, for studies in the history/tragedy of Jews and Judaism in Poland and in the contemporary history of Poland and the Solidarity Movement  (Summer course, 1987).  In his research career, Harper was a National Research Council Fellow at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (‘88-91) and a research scientist in Harvard’s Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences and at the Harvard College Observatory (‘91-96). 

For the John Templeton Foundation, Harper developed many interdisciplinary science symposia.  Amongst these, he edited several research volumes: SCIENCE AND ULTIMATE REALITY: Quantum Theory, Cosmology, and Complexity (Cambridge University Press {CUP}, 2004); FITNESS OF THE COSMOS FOR LIFE: Biochemistry and Fine-Tuning (CUP, 2007); VISIONS OF DISCOVERY: New Light on Physics, Cosmology, and Consciousness (CUP, 2010); WATER AND LIFE: The Unique Properties of H2O (Taylor & Francis, 2010); KURT GODEL AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF MATHEMATICS: Horizons of Truth (CUP, 2011) and SCIENCE, REASON AND TRUTH (Notre Dame, in press) .  Additional volumes developed by Harper include: DEEP BEAUTY: Understanding the Quantum World through Mathematical Innovation (CUP, 2011), INFINITY: New Research Frontiers (CUP, 2011), and THE ASTRONOMY REVOLUTION: 400 years of exploring the cosmos (Taylor & Francis, 2011).

Harper’s scientific publications include more than 50 research articles in scientific journals, including Nature, Science, and the Astrophysical Journal and on topics ranging from Big Bang nucleosynthesis, to the age and chemical evolution of the galaxy, star and planet formation, and the early planetary histories of the Earth, Moon and Mars, involving the development of cores, tectonic and volcanic cycles, continents, oceans and atmospheres.

Harper played rugby and varsity football in college.  He was the elected captain of the Princeton University Rugby-Football Club for the 1979-1980 season. In the early 1980’s he worked as a volunteer in disaster assistance with the International Rescue Committee and UNHCR in Thailand, built a new unit for a hospital in Sialkot Pakistan, and served in a program for troubled youth at the Son Village Facility in Welches, Oregon, (1980-1), also serving in the Mt. Hood Ski school, on the Mt. Hood Mountain Rescue Team, and leading Sunday services at Timberline Lodge.  He holds an Emergency Care Attendant degree in emergency medicine and a pilot’s license.  Harper is an outdoorsman, enjoying skiing, fly fishing, whitewater kayaking, rock-&-ice climbing, mountaineering and scuba diving.  He seeks to complete the “Seven Summits”, ---climbing each of the highest peaks on the seven continents.  The father of four children, he is married to Susan Billington Harper, D. Phil., a Rhodes Scholar, specialist on the history of India, and formerly a lecturer in history, literature and writing at Harvard, program officer with the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Executive Director of the Templeton Prize.

For examples of Charles L. Harper’s work, see:



Interview and Lecture