South African apartheid fighter Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize in recognition of the Anglican churchman's work in advancing global peace.

"Desmond Tutu calls upon all of us to recognize that each and every human being is unique in all of history and, in doing so, to embrace our own vast potential to be agents for spiritual progress and positive change," said Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president of the Pennsylvania-based foundation.

"Not only does he teach this idea, he lives it."

The Templeton Prize, established in 1972 by the now deceased investor Sir John Templeton, intends to honor a living person who "has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension," the foundation's website said April 4.

The prize includes a cash award of $1.7 million.

Archbishop Tutu said he was "totally bowled over" by his selection. He said his rise to prominence was dependent on the work of others and he credited the honor to "all the wonderful people who accepted me as their leader at home."

Tutu, who formerly headed the Anglican Archdiocese of Cape Town, was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, South Africa. He was ordained to the Anglican priesthood in 1961. He served for three years with the World Council of Churches' Theological Education Fund.

In 1975, he became the first black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg and was named Bishop of Lesotho soon after. He was elected Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985 before becoming the Archbishop of Johannesburg the next year.

He worked to abolish South Africa's system of racial segregation and racial privilege known as apartheid, while also working for racial reconciliation between white and black South Africans.

The archbishop was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. He led protests in 1989 that led to the freeing of several leading activists, including the future South African President Nelson Mandela. The end of apartheid soon followed.

In the 1990s, Archbishop Tutu played a role as a political mediator. After his retirement as archbishop in 1996, he chaired South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated human rights violations under apartheid.

In 2007, he and Nelson Mandela joined other former global leaders like U.S. President Jimmy Carter started a group called The Elders to work for peace and human rights in troubled regions of the world.

Previous Templeton Prize winners include Mother Teresa, U.S. Protestant minister Rev. Billy Graham, Russian writer and political prisoner Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Father Michal Heller, a Polish priest and physicist who was a friend of Pope John Paul II.