Honorary Degree Recipients

The University of Chicago traditionally confers the honorary doctor of divinity, doctor of humane letters, doctor of laws, doctor of music, and doctor of science degrees.

The University’s approach to awarding honorary degrees, however, is unique in that the University does not honor actors, ambassadors, presidents or monarchs unless they meet stringent requirements for scholarship. The University traditionally awards honorary degrees to individuals who have made significant contributions to their fields of study or in service to the University, in the case of those who have served as presidents of the University or chairmen of the Board of Trustees.

University faculty nominate candidates at the level of degree-granting units. Departmental honorary degree committees collect letters of recommendation from outside scholars as well as complete bibliographies of the candidates. They make their recommendations to the divisional committees, which then make their recommendations to the deans.

2022 Honorary Degree Recipients

Cora Diamond

Kenan Professor of Philosophy and University Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia

Cora Diamond is Kenan Professor of Philosophy and University Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia.  She is a member of the American Philosophical Society, and was a Humboldt Visiting Professor at the University of Leipzig.  She gave a Dewey Lecture at the American Philosophical Association. 

She is the author of The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy and The Mind and of Reading Wittgenstein with Anscombe, Going On To Ethics. She edited Wittgenstein's Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics, Cambridge, 1939. She has written numerous essays on the work of Frege and Wittgenstein, on ethics and on philosophy in relation to literature. She is widely known for her collaborative work with James Conant, developing the 'resolute' reading of Wittgenstein.  Her work on animal ethics is also widely known and influential. 

She is a graduate of Swarthmore College and holds a B.Phil. from Oxford University. 

Katherine H. Freeman

Evan Pugh University Professor in the Departments of Geosciences and of Chemistry at The Pennsylvania State University.

Dr. Freeman studies organic molecules preserved in ancient sediments and soils. Derived from plants, microbes, or algae, these fossil molecules uniquely represent their biological sources and the environments they inhabited. Dr. Freeman uses their features to study Earth’s climate history, including carbon dioxide in the ancient atmosphere, carbon cycling in ancient oceans, and the patterns of water, vegetation, and fire on ancient landscapes. She also studies isotope patterns within molecules as potential biosignatures for space exploration, and she currently is serving as Director of the NASA Astrobiology Center for Isotopologue Research (ACIR) at Penn State University. Dr. Freeman helped develop compound-specific stable carbon isotope analyses, a method widely applied today in environmental, ecological, energy, forensic, and natural product research.

Dr. Freeman earned her B.A. from Wellesley College, and she earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from Indiana University in Geosciences. She was a postdoc at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography before joining the Penn State faculty. Freeman is co-Editor of Annual Reviews in Earth and Planetary Sciences.

Freeman is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Geochemical Society, the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Geophysical Union, and previously of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and the Guggenheim Foundation. She was awarded the Alfred Treibs Medal from the Geochemical Society, the Cozzarelli Prize from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University, and the Day Medal from the Geological Society of America.

Mercedes García-Arenal

Research Professor at the Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas del Mediterráneo of the CSIC (Spanish  Center for Scientific Research) in Madrid

Mercedes García-Arenal is Research Professor at the Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas del Mediterráneo of the CSIC (Spanish  Center for Scientific Research) in Madrid. She is a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council, of the Academia Europea, and corresponding member of The Medieval Academy of America.

Mercedes García-Arenal is a cultural and religious historian. Her work has focused on a crucial time in Spanish history marked by the rise of new powers and new religious trends, which brought about forced conversions, mass exile, and the establishment of the Inquisition. She has extensively written on religious minorities—mainly on Muslim minorities in Iberia, but also on Jews and Judeo-Conversos in Iberia, as well as Jews and Jewish converts to Islam in Islamic lands. She has revisited and questioned key notions and commonly held views in the field of Early Modern Iberian religious and cultural history, and has greatly contributed to change our understanding of the role of Iberia in the beginnings of European Modernity. Her work challenges the polarized description of majority–minority groups on multiple levels, and questions scholars’ reproduction of these polarized patterns. She has produced an innovative view on the dynamics of cultural change and exchange in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In so doing, she has challenged prevailing assumptions that religious change is driven by autochtonous forces within each tradition, accounting for the impact that interaction had on their historical developments. She has authored and co-authored several books, edited and directed many others as product of research projects she has lead, and published an extensive number of learned articles in important journals in English, French and Spanish.

Marcedes García-Arenal received a PhD from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, was a post-doctoral fellow at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) London, was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

Her work has been recognized by several wards, of which Premio Nacional de Investigación “Ramón Menéndez Pidal” 2019

Nergis Mavalvala

Dean of the MIT School of Science Curtis (1963) and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics

Nergis Mavalvala is an award-winning physicist, a pioneer in the detection of gravitational waves and of quantum measurement science. She is a longtime member of the scientific team behind the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which in 2016 detected the gravitational waves resulting from colliding black holes. With her doctoral adviser, Rainer Weiss, she helped to develop the gravitational-wave detector technologies that are at the heart of LIGO — enabling scientific discoveries that in 2017 earned Weiss and his colleagues the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics.

The LIGO discovery—ripples in the space-time fabric caused by the motion of black holes and neutron stars—has been widely hailed as the dawn of a new era in astrophysics, enabling researchers to observe objects in the universe that are not visible with light. Thus, Mavalvala’s research has been instrumental in capturing the witheringly faint warping and rippling of the very structure of space-time to observe violent cosmic events. To further this research, she has conducted experiments on generation and application of exotic quantum states of light, as well as on laser cooling and trapping of macroscopic objects to enable observation of quantum phenomena in human-scale systems.

For her groundbreaking research and her role in achieving the LIGO discoveries, Mavalvala has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a Sloan Foundation Fellowship (2005), a MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant (2010), the Gruber Prize in Cosmology (2016), and the Carnegie Corporation’s Great Immigrant Award (2017). Mavalvala, who has been an outspoken voice for equality and women’s access to education, is a dedicated mentor and a highly visible role model for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2014, she was honored as the LGBTQ Scientist of the Year by the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals. She is a fellow of the American Physical Society and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences.