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When Law School Professor Cass R. Sunstein found out on March 14 that he was this year’s recipient of the Holberg Prize, he said he was both surprised and gratified.
“It felt like squash had been made an Olympic sport, and I had been informed that I made the team,” Sunstein said. “Meaning, very surprising and slightly surreal—and a great honor.”
The Holberg Prize is a Norwegian award given annually to a researcher who has made great contributions to the arts and humanities, the social sciences, law, or theology. Sunstein is a researcher in behavioral science and political theory, and his work explores the intersection of the two fields.
The prize—established in 2003—comes with a financial award of 6 million Norwegian kroner, or around $765,000. Sunstein will accept the prize and the money in a ceremony at Norway’s University of Bergen on June 6.
Sunstein has published 48 books and hundreds of scholarly articles, including the New York Times bestseller “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness.” The Holberg decision committee praised Sunstein’s range and depth, and called his research “wide-ranging, original, prolific, and highly influential.”
Sunstein said he believes he won for “work trying to deepen the foundations of democratic theory”—a major goal of his academic career.
In addition to Harvard, Sunstein has worked at the University of Chicago and was a member of President Barack Obama's review group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies in 2013.
Sunstein said there were many people that have aided him in his academic work.
“When anyone gets a prize, the number of teachers and students and collaborators and friends who are co-recipients is pretty high,” he said.
Law School Professor Laurence H. Tribe, who taught Sunstein, wrote in an email that Sunstein “is a national treasure.”
“His breadth and depth of insight across disciplines is unparalleled, as is his productivity. That he credits me as his mentor is humbling but enormously gratifying,” he wrote.
Sunstein said he is currently working on a book addressing the #MeToo movement and how social norms affect people’s willingness to speak up.
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