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John Protevi named Ogden Honors College 2021-22 Sternberg Professor

The Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College has named Professor John Protevi of LSU’s Departments of French Studies and Philosophy & Religious Studies as the 2021-22 Erich and Lea Sternberg Honors Professor. Established in 1996, the professorship is the highest award conferred to faculty by the Ogden Honors College. 

“Protevi masterfully combines neuroscience, psychology, and ethics to explore the origins of morality in HNRS 2030, Evolution of Biology and Morality. He epitomizes what it means to be a Sternberg Professor by having outstanding academic qualifications and credentials; a preeminent teaching record; honorable moral and ethical character; and the capacity to promote intellectual and social progress, trustworthiness, leadership, and patriotism,” said Ogden Honors College Dean Jonathan Earle.  

Protevi received his Ph.D. from Loyola University in Chicago and has taught in the Ogden Honors College for over 20 years. “It’s a flattering and generous award from the [Ogden] Honors College. I love getting to interact with honors students in small, 15-person classes and they make my job enjoyable by having such high aspirations and a desire to learn,” Protevi said. 

As a philosopher, Protevi seeks to engage with and respond to biology and anthropology. His course focuses on the biological roots and evolutionary origins of morality and the theory that humans are primed to absorb moral values subconsciously. 

 “I started this course to combat the idea that human nature is competitive, aggressive, and violent. I don’t think that we [humans] are necessarily the opposite of that, that is, we’re not automatically peaceful and cooperative, but I don’t think being peaceful and cooperative means we have to fight against human nature,” Protevi said. “Humans are biosocial, which means we are animals with prosocial tendencies — humans absorb the values of the culture they are raised in.” 

According to Protevi, societal progress relies heavily on the establishment and cues that come from culture. “There are so many evolutionary developments that separate us from animals and primates. While they have some capacity to be emotional and intellectual, we are far more evolved, and what evolved is our capacity for culture. What we consider to be equality and fairness can be shaped by the content of our culture,” he said.  

Protevi’s course also uses a skill-based approach to learning. His goal is for students to leave his course with a new skill set and not just an awareness of information. The course challenges participants to do research, analyze information, and be able to explain complex, technical concepts to non-technical audiences. These are skills that have proven particularly relevant in today’s society as humans try to navigate things like climate change and COVID-19.   

As the recipient of this award, Protevi will give the 2022 Sternberg Lecture on “Human Nature.” The lecture will take place in the French House’s Hans and Donna Sternberg Salon, on April 20 at 6:30 p.m.