Menu Phi Beta Kappa PBK Northern California Association Honor Society
PBK Key logo

Asilomar 2018 32nd Annual Asilomar Conference 
the weekend of February 16 - 19, 2018

Get Coupon

Where is Asilomar? The beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds was designed in the Arts & Crafts style by architect Julia Morgan and is located near Monterey, California. We have held our conference there for the past 30 years. For more see the Wiki

Go to Past Asilomars

Beach header

If western culture is shown to be rich it is because… It has tried to dissolve harmful simplifications through inquiry and the critical mind.”    – Umberto Eco

As the news cycle spins ever faster, it is time for that annual change-of-pace weekend in the spring when Phi Betes gather with family and friends for fellowship, learning and exploration. 

Past attendees describe the event as a much-needed renewal for body, mind and soul. Where else can friends meet for provocative talks with leading scholars and artists, while relaxing in world-class architectural gems and hiking the stunning Monterey coast?  A preview of this year’s plans is below; for details on last year’s event, visit .

Registration for the event is available now; the majority of your payment goes toward scholarships for PBK graduate students in the region.  Accommodations for the conference are booked directly with Asilomar; information on lodging (which includes all meals) will be sent to registered participants in October. Cost for last year was about $565/person, double occupancy. Please watch your email for more details.

If you have questions on the program, please contact  For registration matters, please contact Barry Haskell at

Deirdre Frontczak, Asilomar Chair

Friday Evening - To be announced

Fred Lawrence, J.D., Public Policy / Secretary, Phi Beta Kappa Society, Saturday morning

The Contours of Expression: Free Speech and Civility

Fred LawrenceThe challenges for free expression on our campuses have never seemed greater. Given the coarsening of our public discourse and the lack of clarity about our core value of free expression, it is perhaps no surprise that this issue presents itself with such urgency on our campuses today. We must recommit ourselves to first principles; in particular, three: 

  • Robust free expression and free inquiry are central for the mission of all our colleges and universities. 
  • Free expression does have limits. Where does protected, hateful speech cross over into being behavior that a university may prohibit and sanction? The dividing line should be based on the intent of the actor. Is the intent to communicate a hateful idea, or to intimidate and threaten particular victims?
  • There is a moral obligation to respond to hateful speech – not to suppress it, but to respond to it clearly and forcefully.

Frederick M. Lawrence is Secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, where he has focused on advocacy for the arts, humanities and sciences, and on championing free expression, inquiry and academic freedom. He is also a Distinguished Lecturer at the Georgetown Law Center and Visiting Professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Previously he served as president of Brandeis University, Dean of the George Washington University Law School, and Visiting Professor and Senior Research Scholar at Yale Law School.

Kathleen Lawrence, Ph.D., Georgetown, Literature, Saturday afternoon

ELDEST BROTHER OF MY OWN: How Walt Whitman Transformed Henry James

Kathleen LawrenceAt first glance it appears that apart from a national heritage, Henry James and Walt Whitman shared little in common. Of different generations and social strata, writing in different genres and styles, and displaying contrasting sartorial identities, the two never met and seemed destined to ignore each other from their respective abodes on either side of the Atlantic. And yet, late in James’s life, at a vulnerable moment, he re-encountered Whitman’s final 1891 deathbed version of Leaves of Grass. On the cusp of a new century, sixty-five years old, and about to invent a new literary mode, James’s turn towards Whitman enabled him to regain his lost identity, transforming him emotionally and artistically.

Central to Whitman’s project, both literary and political, was what he called “the love of comrades,” an emotional bond described in the cluster added to Leaves of Grass in 1861. For Whitman, “a fervent, accepted development of comradeship, the beautiful and sane affection of man for man, latent in all the young fellows, north and south, east and west” would promote democratic values. This talk will explore the artistic and political implications of Whitman’s work, and its impact on James’s later life and literary expression.

Kathy Lawrence is an associate professor affiliated with the English department of Georgetown University, and has also taught at Brandeis University and George Washington University. Lawrence received her M.A. from Yale and her Ph.D. from Boston University in American Studies, as well as post-doctoral fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the Smithsonian, and the American Academy of Rome. She has published widely on Henry James, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, and is currently working on a book about James’s relationship with Walt Whitman.

Breck Parkman, M.A., Archaeology, California State Parks (ret.), Saturday evening

Sequel to the Summer of Love: An Archaeological Perspective of the 1960s

Breck ParkmanWhen people think of archaeologists, they often picture an Indiana Jones-type character toiling away amongst ancient ruins. Archaeology can be that and yet it can be so much more. For almost 40 years, I’ve been constructing an archaeology of the 1960s, that time of tremendous social and political upheaval in our country. Contemporary archaeology searches for new meaning in the recent past: My recent work has examined the archaeology of a famous, Grateful Dead-associated hippie commune that existed from 1967 to 1969, and a training ground used by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 1961 to 1969. Numerous artifacts recovered from these two sites are useful in examining cultural stereotypes. In this talk, we will explore some of those artifacts, including 93 vinyl records and 360 spent cartridge cases, and describe what they can tell us about the 1960s that may challenge our memories or expectations.

E. Breck Parkman is recently retired from 36 years as a Senior State Archaeologist in California; his award-winning research has also spanned Kodiak Island, Alaska; the Canadian Plains; the South Coast of Peru; and Central Siberia. Breck earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in Anthropology at CSU Hayward, and is former Director of the UNESCO-sponsored Fort Ross ~ Global Village Project. His research interests include rock art studies, shamanism, contemporary archaeology, Russian America, and Native American resistance movements. He has appeared in numerous films and documentaries on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, BBC, and PBS.

Maryanne Wolf, Ph.D., Tufts, Education and Psychology, Sunday Morning

The Harvests of a Quiet Eye: A Cautionary Tale about the Changing Reading Brain in a Digital Culture

Maryanne WolfSoon after she published “Proust and the Squid” (2008), a history of the development of the reading brain, Wolf began receiving letters from readers – professionals, teachers and students – complaining of a new phenomenon: the more students read online, the less they seemed to understand. Had reading changed profoundly over the seven years of her writing project? What was going on with these readers? Was the digital format to blame for their superficial approaches? Was her research already in need of review? 
This presentation will introduce recent research from varied disciplines, particularly the cognitive neurosciences, to describe the evolution of the reading brain until today, and particularly the changes occurring within a digital milieu. Wolf will discuss the implications of these changes for the development and/or atrophy of critical analysis, empathy, and contemplative thought, and also describe advances in global literacy based on digital technologies.
Maryanne Wolf is Professor of Citizenship and Public Service; Director, Center for Reading and Language Research, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, Tufts University; and Fellow and Research Affiliate at the Center for Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University. She graduated from Harvard, where she began work on the reading brain, literacy, and dyslexia. Selected awards include Distinguished Professor of the Year (Massachusetts Psychological Association), Teaching Excellence Award (American Psychological Association), Fulbright Fellow (for work in Germany), and most recently, the Christopher Columbus Award for new work on global literacy. Her current work applies research on the reading brain circuit to the design and curation of a digital learning experience for non-literate children in remote regions around the world and in the rural U.S.

Jason Klocek, Ph.D. Candidate, U.C. Berkeley, Political Science, Sunday afternoon

What Do We Really Know about Modern Religious Conflicts?

Jason KlocekViolence in the name of religion dominates our headlines. Coverage often centers on Islamist groups, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Yet, religious hostility is not limited to one faith tradition, as evidenced by the increased activity of militant Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia. Nor, is it confined to distant locales, as the latest attacks in the UK and France remind us. How are we to understand such violence?

In this talk, we will discuss the central questions that challenge contemporary scholars of religious conflict. Are these disputes more about religion, or politics? How does religion shape the way rebels fight? How do state forces respond to religious uprisings? And, why do these conflicts seem so difficult to resolve? We will explore these questions in the context of both ongoing and resolved conflicts, with particular attention to my current research on British counterinsurgency campaigns during the early postwar period.

Jason Klocek, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Berkeley, is a ΦBKNCA scholarship awardee for 2017. His research and teaching examine the role of religion in conflict, state counterinsurgency and repression, and civil wars and political violence more broadly. His published work is forthcoming or has appeared in the Journal of Conflict Resolution and St. Antony’s International Review, among others. He holds an M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University, and served with the U.S. Peace Corps in Turkmenistan from 2003 to 2005.

George Anders, Stanford, B.A., Economics, Sunday evening

Work's Provocative Future

George AndersEvery few weeks, we learn more about the seemingly limitless potential of artificial intelligence. As we head toward a world defined by self-driving cars, drone-powered warfare and AI-based chat bots, what's left for humans to do? Intriguingly, our greatest strengths are so familiar to us that we sometimes forget how valuable -- and hard to emulate -- they can be. The world's labor markets still need our creativity, curiosity and empathy. This talk will cover a variety of labor-market surprises, showing how the humanist's perspective is becoming more valuable, even as technology marches forward. 

George Anders is a contributing writer at Forbes magazine and the author of five books, including his latest, You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a Useless Liberal Arts Degree. Earlier in his career, he worked as a staff writer or bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company and Bloomberg View. He is a ΦBK Stanford graduate with a B.A. in economics and a transcript that includes brief journeys into everything from Slavic literature to genetics, constitutional law and the history of film. In 1997, he shared in the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

Laura Bogar, Ph.D. Candidate, Stanford, Monday morning

Underground negotiations: How plants and fungi negotiate symbiosis – and why we care

Laura BogarHumans have trouble cooperating, even with plenty of dialogue. So, how can organisms cooperate when they can’t even speak? Plants and fungi must do this all the time. My research focuses on how they manage it.
Nearly all land plants – our basic nutrition – rely on fungi to help them extract nutrients from the soil. The plants provide carbon resources (like sugar) to feed the fungi, and in exchange the fungi provide resources like water, phosphorus, and nitrogen to the plant. This cooperation, called mycorrhizal symbiosis, requires the plants and fungi to decide with which trading partners they want to associate, and what quantities of resources they want to exchange. In this talk, I will share some of my dissertation work, highlighting experiments that use next-generation sequencing to figure out what makes some plants and fungi more compatible than others. How do plants and fungi decide who their symbiotic partners will be? Answering this question will illuminate details of carbon and nitrogen cycling, improve our understanding of forest ecology, and provide insight into the evolution of cooperation itself.

A fifth year Ph.D. student at Stanford and winner of the Hendess scholarship from ΦBKNCA (2017), Laura focuses her research on the symbiosis between plant roots and soil fungi – a partnership essential for many temperate forest trees. She is interested in how ectomycorrhizal plants and fungi choose their partners and negotiate interactions, using genetics and physiology to understand small-scale mechanisms that influence large-scale ecological processes.