Key Conversations with Phi Beta Kappa

By The Phi Beta Kappa Society

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Key Conversations with Phi Beta Kappa is a podcast from The Phi Beta Kappa Society's Visiting Scholars program, featuring leading scholars across multiple disciplines in conversation with Fred Lawrence, PBK's Secretary and CEO.

Episode Date
Buddhist Scholar Donald Lopez on the Staying Power of Ancient Questions
00:24:09

The Buddhist and Tibetan Studies professor at the University of Michigan recalls how a tumultuous period in U.S. politics led him to his area of expertise. Plus, what he’s learned from his many meetings with a leading Buddhist philosopher, the Dalai Lama. And what attracted him to out-of-the-box thinkers like poet Gendun Chopel.

Sep 19, 2022
Howard Bloch Sees Human Choices in Medieval History
00:26:13

The Yale professor of French and Humanities shares how cathedral fires “of suspicious origin” played a role in the transition from Romanesque to Gothic-style architecture in Europe. Plus, how his scholarship challenges existing narratives on everything from historical relics to literary movements.

Aug 22, 2022
Biologist Victoria Sork on What Trees Teach Us
00:26:29

The UCLA professor shares how the life-changing revelation that she could be a scientist, and work outdoors, led to her research on tree genomes and evolutionary biology. Plus, how she harnesses the teaching power of plants as the director of UCLA’s botanical garden.

Jul 11, 2022
Sociologist Marta Tienda on Why Demography is Not Destiny
00:24:56

The Princeton University professor shares how instrumental one teacher was in her own path to college, and why the U.S. should do more to invest in higher education. She speaks to Fred about how important public policy is in shaping our individual and collective destinies.

Jun 13, 2022
Professor Ed Ayers on Teaching a Morally Engaging History
00:26:20

The Civil War historian talks about combining intellectual, cultural, social, and economic history to truly grasp the U.S.’s past, especially events that took place in the South. He shares with Fred how he helps make free, nonpartisan, educational resources for teaching lively history lessons.

May 16, 2022
Editor Bob Wilson Celebrates A Career of Literary Journalism
00:24:28

The retiring editor of The American Scholar magazine reflects on decades producing literary journalism, why he always supported women writers, and the role of journalists in turbulent times.

Apr 18, 2022
2021 Lebowitz Award Winners on How We Perceive Our Selves
00:30:47

The Lebowitz Award is presented each year to a pair of outstanding philosophers who hold contrasting views on a topic of current interest in the field. The 2021 winners, New York University's Ned Block and Johns Hopkins University's Ian Phillips, speak with Fred about how they approach philosophy of mind – specifically, our powers of perception and how that affects our consciousness.

Mar 22, 2022
Professor Joan Waugh Debunks the “Easy Stereotypes of History”
00:24:00

The UCLA scholar tries to understand the past on its own terms, while interrogating how we memorialize it. She speaks with Fred about the memory wars that have outlived the Civil War, the politics of Reconstruction that gave us Confederate monuments, and what we can learn from Gettysburg by visiting the place. 

Feb 24, 2022
Princeton’s Doug Massey Unpacks U.S. Migration and Housing Segregation
00:25:06

The multidisciplinary scholar’s wide-ranging interests led him to demography and population research early on. He speaks with Fred about what people generally misunderstand about immigration into the U.S., how border enforcement has backfired, and why racial segregation and housing discrimination persist around the country.

Jan 27, 2022
2021 Book Awards Keynote Roundtable
00:43:29

The Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards are presented annually to three outstanding scholarly books published in the United States. The 2021 winners are Jenn Shapland for My Autobiography of Carson McCullers;  Sarah Stewart Johnson for The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World; and Alice Baumgartner for South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War. During the ceremony, the authors shared their thought process that sparked their ideas, found commonality in courage, and reflected on the moments that spurred them on to pursue the work we honored.

Dec 22, 2021
How Biophysicist Karen Fleming Explores the Rules of Life, Evolution, and Disease
00:23:05

The biophysicist has been running a discovery research lab for two decades at Johns Hopkins. She speaks with Fred about the randomness underlying all molecular processes, computer models that enable the integration of multiple scientific disciplines, and what she sees as compelling strategies for a more inclusive STEM pipeline.

This interview was recorded remotely.

Nov 25, 2021
Bro Adams Knows What the Humanities Can Do Beyond Campuses
00:25:47

William "Bro" Adams, the former head of the National Endowment of the Humanities, and President of Colby College and Bucknell University brought the humanities with him through his professional journey. While doing so he challenged colleges to rethink the impact liberal arts and sciences had on students, and the role they could play in the broader general public. In this episode, he shares how the meaningful life and the productive life can coexist and how they can both be served in higher education. 

Oct 29, 2021
Yale’s Tracey Meares Deconstructs Our Relationship with the Police
00:25:08

She’s a nationally recognized expert on policing. She speaks with Fred about the need to reimagine public safety and reform, the distinct American policing experience in a global context, and what it’s like trying to convince her law school students that criminal procedure is actually about constitutional law.

This interview was recorded remotely.

Sep 24, 2021
Anthropologist Elizabeth Cullen Dunn on Why Geography Is a Way of Thinking
00:23:42

She has spent years studying displaced people living in refugee camps around the world. And has sometimes even been claimed by residents thanks to her ability to acclimate with her research subjects. Here, Cullen Dunn explains why geography is a way of thinking, how we can reconsider the role of charity in resettlement efforts, and what the digital revolution has to do with forced migration.

Aug 27, 2021
Biophysicist Martin Gruebele on the Future of Scientific Discovery
00:24:18
He studies a broad range of fundamental problems in chemical and biological physics, and thinks deeply about the course of scientific inquiry. And finds fascinating ways to explain things to Fred in this episode, like what Zebrafish and chemical reactions in the Ozone layer can teach us about collaboration, and why more policymakers and scientists should be talking to one another.
Jul 30, 2021
Philosopher Susan Wolf on Meaningfulness as a Dimension of a Good Life
00:25:22

The moral philosopher ponders why being happy and acting morally may not be enough to satisfy us. She believes we need a vocabulary of meaning in public discourse, and suggests we strive for vitality––not joy––in the face of uncertainty and suffering.

This interview was recorded remotely.

Jun 25, 2021
Paul Robbins on How to Save Biodiversity in the Planet
00:23:41

His research focuses on human interactions with nature and the politics of natural resource management. The professor and dean at the University of Wisconsin speaks with Fred about how the natural environment affects everything from racial and social justice to the population bust. And he reveals what coffee, frogs and workers can teach us about the survival of wildlife and humans.

This interview was recorded remotely.

May 28, 2021
Lebowitz Award Winners on How We Reason in Moments of Transformation
00:24:33

The Lebowitz Award is presented each year to a pair of outstanding philosophers who hold contrasting views on a topic of current interest in the field. The 2020 winners, University of Chicago’s Agnes Callard and Yale’s Laurie Paul, speak with Fred about their differing approaches to understanding and explaining what principles and mechanisms guide decision making when people face significant decisions.

Apr 30, 2021
Roger Guenveur Smith Makes the Sublime and the Profane Artful
00:26:51

The writer, actor and director creates characters that resonate in the moment and speak compellingly to the day's dilemmas. From his collaboration with Spike Lee, to his portrayal of Frederick Douglas, Otto Frank and Rodney King, he unfolds fascinating stories that span his prolific career, like his unlikely decision to audition for the Yale School of Drama.

Mar 26, 2021
Genetics Researcher Janet Westpheling on Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists
00:25:06

She knew early on she wanted to be a scientist. Today, her research at the intersection of academic and industrial microbiology addresses some of the most pressing energy issues of our time. The University of Georgia professor speaks with Fred about her upbringing, her work at The Center for Bioenergy Innovation, and her role as an educator and champion of scientific inquiry inside and outside of the lab.

Feb 26, 2021
Poet Evie Shockley on Why Poems Are an Analysis Genre
00:25:36

The Rutgers professor, who left a career in law to pursue literature, speaks with Fred about the role of poetry in social justice, documenting and analyzing our lived experiences through poems, and why, contrary to popular belief, poems are one of the most accessible mediums of expression. And she reads two of her own.

Jan 29, 2021
2020 Book Awards Keynote Roundtable
00:37:21

The Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards are presented annually to three outstanding scholarly books published in the United States. The 2020 winners are Leah Price for What We Talk about When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading; Sarah Parcak for Archaeology From Space: How the Future Shapes the Past; and Sarah Seo for Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom. During the ceremony, the authors shared their thought process that sparked their ideas, marveled at how much our quotidian experiences tell us about the human condition, and reflected on the individuals who spurred them on to pursue the work we honored.

Jan 01, 2021
Former Obama Advisor Joseph Aldy on How Climate Change Policies Can Bolster the Economy Post COVID-19
00:27:06

Former Special Assistant to President Obama for Energy and Environment, Professor Joseph Aldy is an expert in thinking creatively about how climate change-friendly policies can bolster the economy in times of crisis. He reflects on lessons from 2009, and looks ahead at how we can build an American economy that is more resilient to risk in a post COVID-19 era.

Nov 27, 2020
Political Scientist Corey Brettschneider on Why We Should Distrust Our Presidents
00:27:34

Brown University’s Corey Brettschneider has spent years studying constitutional law and the purpose and limits of the presidency. As the 2020 election draws near, he speaks with Fred about the likelihood of bringing back constraints to the most powerful office in the land, why the words in the oath of office matter, and what our current political climate reveals about civil liberties, civil rights and the constitutional powers of the three branches of government.

Oct 30, 2020
Latin American Scholar Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel Connects Latin American Identities Across Geography and Literature
00:23:46

As a critical reader and writer, Professor Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel at the University of Miami contextualizes colonial literature and contemporary Caribbean and Latino narratives, exploring issues of gender, sexuality, and migration.  She speaks with Fred about feminism in colonial times, the literary thread between islands ruled by different empires, and what art and activism reveal about colonial legacies.

Sep 25, 2020
Classics Scholar Peter Meineck on How Greek Theater Trains Better Citizens
00:27:56

The NYU's professor elaborates on how to better understand and live through today's social and moral turmoil by learning from the great theater works of antiquity. Meineck illustrates what Greek drama can teach us about understanding trauma, being informed voters, embracing difference, and what we should, and shouldn't, expect from leaders and heroes.

Aug 28, 2020
REPLAY: Celebrated Author Edwidge Danticat Retraces the Arc of Her Literary Genius
00:29:54

While promoting her new book, an accomplished short story collection called Everything Inside, the PBK member and noted writer talks about her formative experiences, like imagining herself not as Madeline but the classic’s author, and writing for a high school paper in New York City a mere year after immigrating to the US from Haiti. She opens up about “borrowed memories” in her life and her work, about the role of death and ritual in healing, and the continuity of purpose in her writing.

Jul 24, 2020
College Admissions Field Welcomes a New Leader, Dr. Angel B. Pérez, Who Sees Its Strengths and Faults
00:28:05

As a high school student, a college counselor created what Dr. Angel B. Pérez calls his “pivotal moment”—one that would set him on a path to college, a career in higher education, and now the chance to lead NACAC, the nation’s largest organization of college admissions counselors. His path from the South Bronx to the academy is extraordinary as are the times in which he steps into this leadership role.  

Jun 26, 2020
Math Professor Ken Ono Is Connecting Swimming, Ramanujan, and Hollywood
00:23:58

He got a call to consult on the Hollywood film The Man Who Knew Infinity, starring Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel. The director was so impressed with his knowledge of the life and work of Indian math prodigy Ramanujan that he invited him on set. By the time the credits rolled, he was an associate producer on the movie. But Ono’s own life would make a fascinating big-screen story: a high school dropout pushes away from an intellectually gifted family and his father’s academic legacy, only to be given a chance at college and advanced studies in the very field he avoided for so long.  

May 28, 2020
Dan Simon on the Intersection of Law and Psychology
00:25:02

While writing his dissertation, Dan Simon began to wonder how judges make decisions not from a legal, sociological, or economic perspective but rather from a psychological one. Today, the USC law professor has built a career investigating how factors of the mind—such as memory, false confessions, and the framing of interviews—influence rulings in the criminal justice system.

Apr 24, 2020
Middle East Scholar Jamsheed Choksy Retraces the Roots of the Western Belief in Good and Evil
00:26:31

Much of Western culture and religious beliefs are grounded in a bifurcated notion of an epic power struggle between dueling forces, often defined as “good” and “evil.” This underlying premise influences how we parent, how we practice faith, how we choose vocations, and how we vote. In this episode Jamsheed Choksy, chair of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University Bloomington, provides surprising historical context for how the West’s construction of these binary elements evolved—from Islam.

Mar 27, 2020
Laura Brown Traces Our Love of Animals Through Literature
00:24:26

Professor Laura Brown’s endeavors as a literature reader and critical writer have provided a window into humans’ relationships with various species throughout history. She reveals to host Fred Lawrence what alterity, monkeys, feminist portrayal, and imperialism have to do with each other and what she considers to be the status of the humanities in academia.

Feb 28, 2020
Alfred Spector: Envisioning the Synergies between the Liberal Arts and Computer Science
00:28:31

In this episode, Dr. Alfred Spector offers an optimistic take on the evolving relationship between the liberal arts and computer science. Reflecting on his career experiences in creating a company, working for Google and IBM, and now diving into economic modeling, Spector provides a fascinating account of the evolution of computer science both inside and beyond the academy.  

Jan 31, 2020
2019 Book Awards Dinner Keynote Roundtable
00:36:43

The Phi Beta Kappa book awards are given annually to three outstanding scholarly books published in the United States. 2019’s winners are Imani Perry for Looking for Lorraine: the Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry; Adam Frank, for Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth; and Sarah Igo for The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America. They revealed their thinking behind the works we celebrated and shared stories of unmatched discovery, spoke of love beyond adversity, and fueled our collective imagination with examples of unbound human curiosity.

Jan 03, 2020
Why Dr. Dava Newman Will Be Among the People to Get Humans to Mars
00:27:28

Dava Newman has spent her career figuring out how to get humans to space, and helping them not only to survive there, but also to thrive. She is the Apollo Program Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and the former NASA Deputy Administrator. Her multidisciplinary work combines aerospace biomedical engineering, control modeling, biomechanics, and human interface technology, and she is a leader in advanced spacesuit design. In this episode, she talks about her journey from her childhood in Montana to college at Notre Dame to her research at MIT to leading role at NASA, in addition to how close she thinks we are to getting humans to land on Mars.

Nov 29, 2019
Two Philosophers Ponder What It Means to Act Together
00:30:10

Philosophers Michael E. Bratman, from Stanford University, and Margaret P. Gilbert, from UC Irvine, are this year’s recipients of the Lebowitz Prize for Philosophical Achievement and Contribution, presented by the Phi Beta Kappa Society and the American Philosophical Association. In their respective work, each has expanded on the question of “What is it to act together?” based on sometimes divergent philosophical underpinnings of how two or more individuals interact in a collaborative effort.

Nov 01, 2019
Celebrated Author Edwidge Danticat Retraces the Arc of Her Literary Genius
00:29:47

While promoting her new book, an accomplished short story collection called Everything Inside, the PBK member and noted writer talks about her formative experiences, like imagining herself not as Madeline but the classic’s author, and writing for a high school paper in New York City a mere year after immigrating to the US from Haiti. She opens up about “borrowed memories” in her life and her work, about the role of death and ritual in healing, and the continuity of purpose in her writing.

Oct 04, 2019
How Neuroscientist Susan Birren Is Mapping New Pathways from the Brain
00:22:58

The human brain has 100 billion cells, and there’s still so much to discover about it. Brandeis University neuroscientist Susan Birren has dedicated her distinguished career to decoding the mysteries of how the brain functions and how it communicates with the rest of the body. In this episode, she talks to Phi Beta Kappa Secretary and CEO Fred Lawrence about the challenges and triumphs of such a singular pursuit.

Aug 29, 2019
REPLAY: Economist Paula Stephan on Incentives and Gender Biases
00:25:21

As a college student, Professor Paula Stephan fell in love with economics as a way to understand and influence systems that impacted many people's lives. Years of documenting and analyzing the role of gender in academic performance and the impact of monetary and status incentives on scholars and universities have led her to startling conclusions. In this episode, PBK's Fred Lawrence asks the Georgia State University’s to go beyond the research. 

Aug 02, 2019
REPLAY: We Ask Literature Professor Ayanna Thompson “What Would Shakespeare Say?”
00:25:07

Fred Lawrence, Secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, welcomes professor Ayanna Thompson.  Professor Thompson specializes in Renaissance drama and issues of race in performance. She discusses the universality of Shakespeare while honing in on how he would have reacted to racialized readings of his work. Would he recognize that race plays a role in his plays? Would he agree with Thompson that one of his characters delivers “the first Black-Power speech in English”? What would he think of “Hamilton” and its non-traditional casting? These and other fascinating questions make for a memorable conversation with one of the country’s premiere Shakespeare scholars.

Jun 28, 2019
REPLAY: Former Diplomat Harold Koh Is Worried
00:32:01

In our first episode, Fred Lawrence, Secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, chats with his longtime friend, professor Harold Hongju Koh from Yale Law School. Professor Koh is a distinguished former diplomat and a renowned authority on public and international law. Their intimate and revealing conversation covers Koh’s expansive knowledge of foreign affairs, his views on the state of our nation, and the lasting influence of a father whose curiosity and capacious mind still inspire him. 

May 31, 2019
Middle East Scholar Lisa Anderson on Leading a University in Cairo During the Arab Spring
00:28:40

Her passion for Middle East studies was ignited during a college course with an intense teacher. She immersed herself in the region’s history and language--and has never looked back. For this episode, Prof. Anderson retraces her growing enthusiasm for and deepening knowledge of the Arab world, which saw her break scholarly ground in Libya, take up residence as a professor at American University Cairo, and eventually landed her in the president’s office mere weeks before the upheaval of the Arab Spring.

May 03, 2019
SPECIAL EXTENDED EPISODE: What Should We Make of the College Admissions Scandal?
00:41:06

In this special extended episode, Phi Beta Kappa Secretary and CEO Fred Lawrence invites two experienced colleagues to a frank discussion about the unfolding college admission scandal that has rocked higher education. There are no easy answers, and responsibility is spread around generously, but the exchange is one that will certainly spark discussions at home, in the classroom, and in vaulted academic halls around the country.

Apr 01, 2019
Historian Ed Larson Takes a Critical Look at the Presidency
00:19:41

Jefferson, Adams, Washington. Their names are synonymous with the bold experiment that was the United States in the late 1700s. But there is so much more to these men who wrestled with the notion of building a nation and battled one another politically. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Larson tears the pages of history to offer insight into what made these presidents tick. And what today's leaders can learn from them.

Feb 25, 2019
Economist Paula Stephan on Incentives and Gender Biases
00:25:30

As a college student, Professor Paula Stephan fell in love with economics as a way to understand and influence systems that impacted many people's lives. Years of documenting and analyzing the role of gender in academic performance and the impact of monetary and status incentives on scholars and universities have led her to startling conclusions. In this episode, PBK's Fred Lawrence asks the Georgia State University’s to go beyond the research.

Jan 14, 2019
Amy Cheng Vollmer: The Unofficial Ambassador for Good Bacteria
00:23:25

In this episode, Fred Lawrence, Secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, welcomes professor Amy Cheng Vollmer from Swarthmore College. A microbiologist whose research centers on how bacteria react to different types of stresses, discusses her ongoing fascination with bacteria, why failure is important in her field, the need for STEAM, not just STEM, and what it means to her to be a Chinese-American woman in the sciences.

Dec 03, 2018
We Ask Literature Professor Ayanna Thompson “What Would Shakespeare Say?”
00:24:37

Fred Lawrence, Secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, welcomes professor Ayanna Thompson. She specializes in Renaissance drama and issues of race in performance. She discusses the universality of Shakespeare while honing in on how he would have reacted to racialized readings of his work. Would he recognize that race plays a role in his plays? Would he agree with Thompson that one of his characters delivers “the first Black-Power speech in English”? What would he think of “Hamilton” and its non-traditional casting? These and other fascinating questions make for a memorable conversation with one of the country’s premiere Shakespeare scholars.

Oct 22, 2018
Legal Scholar Harold Hongju Koh Talks International Law and College Cafeterias
00:27:39

In our first episode, Fred Lawrence, Secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, chats with his longtime friend, professor Harold Hongju Koh from Yale Law School. Professor Koh is a distinguished former diplomat and a renowned authority on public and international law. Their intimate and revealing conversation covers Koh’s expansive knowledge of foreign affairs, his views on the state of our nation, and the lasting influence of a father whose curiosity and capacious mind still inspire him.

In our first episode, Fred Lawrence, Secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, chats with his longtime friend, professor Harold Hongju Koh from Yale Law School. Professor Koh is a distinguished former diplomat and a renowned authority on public and international law. Their intimate and revealing conversation covers Koh’s expansive knowledge of foreign affairs, his views on the state of our nation, and the lasting influence of a father whose curiosity and capacious mind still inspire him.

Sep 10, 2018
Key Conversations with Phi Beta Kappa Trailer
00:03:04

A podcast that features intimate and in-depth conversations with scholars and experts across many fields, including international law, Shakespeare, microbiology, economics of science, and astronautics. Listeners get a seat at the table to learn about the featured scholar’s background, research, and how their respective paths have led them to where they are today.

The Phi Beta Kappa Society presents Key Conversations with Phi Beta Kappa, a podcast that features intimate and in-depth conversations with scholars and experts across many fields, including international law, Shakespeare, microbiology, economics of science, and astronautics. Listeners get a seat at the table to learn about the featured scholar’s background, research, and how their respective paths have led them to where they are today. Produced by Lantigua Williams & Co.

Aug 30, 2018