DARCIA NARVAEZ, PH.D., is co-director of the Self, Virtue, and Public Life initiative and professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame. She has published numerous works in the field of moral development and education. She is the author and editor of 19 books and dozens of scholarly papers as well as general audience essays. Her latest works include Basic Needs, Wellbeing and Morality: Fulfilling Human Potential (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); Embodied Morality: Protectionism, Engagement and Imagination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). Her book, Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture and Wisdom (W.W. Norton, 2014) won the 2015 William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association and the 2017 Expanded Reason Award. She recently co-edited Developing the Virtues: Integrating Perspectives (Oxford University Press 2016) with Julia Annas and Nancy Snow. Narvaez is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and of the American Educational Research Association. She also writes a popular blog for Psychology Today titled “Moral Landscapes“.
What motivated you to pursue a scholarly career?
I have many interests and took a tour of careers before settling into academia. Just before my graduate work I was teaching Spanish. In the middle of four years of teaching Spanish at a Minnesota prep school, academia suddenly called to me. Though challenging in other ways, I found that classroom teaching was not intellectually stimulating enough. At that time, I was in a multi-year study group on the common good and got assigned to lead a discussion on the book, In a Different Voice, by Carol Gilligan. When I mentioned this to a friend, he noted that his neighbor was an expert in the field. So, I went to see Professor Jim Rest at the University of Minnesota to get more information about moral development research. He suggested I read his latest book (Moral Development: Advances in Research and Theory). When I did, it was a revelation—moral development research was examining the kinds of questions that had haunted me since I was a child living abroad—what is justice and why is there so much injustice? So I applied to graduate school at the University of Minnesota and started my doctoral work in moral developmental psychology. I fell in love with Jim and so had to change advisers, but that is another story….
What are some of your current research interests and/or projects?
I am doing transdisciplinary work on questions like these: What does humanity’s species-typical growth and development look like? What is optimal human nature and how is it fostered—we know this for dogs and horses, why don’t we (in the West) know it for people? Why is humanity’s evolved nest so important for fostering human moral nature? How do we provide the evolved nest in this day and age? How did humanity get to a point of self- and planetary destruction? Why is the dominant culture alienated from the rest of the natural world? Why are humans in the dominant culture bent on destroying their habitat, unlike any other animal? How do we restore connection to and respect toward nature? What do indigenous, first-nation societies have to teach the modern world? How do sustainable societies grow human beings (e.g., !Kung Bushmen have been around for 150,000 years)? How do we integrate sustainable practices with modern advances (which do we keep)?
Why do you think the SVPL initiative is important, and how does it connect with your own research?
In many ways, U.S. culture undermines cooperative human nature by robbing families, across generations, of the ability to provide the early “cultural commons” that shapes a child’s neurobiology, personality and our evolved human nature of communal imagination. The quality of public life emerges from the capacities that are shaped by families and communities in their young, by education and immersion in practices, and by the kinds of information environments in which people put themselves. All these have deteriorated in the U.S.A., which exports its ways to other parts of the world, not boding well for the future of the planet. To maintain a healthy democracy, communities must promote civic virtue and civic participatory practice from the beginning of life and throughout the lifespan. I look forward to supporting projects that help us figure out how best to nourish democracy in this challenging age.