The 30th anniversary of the Charleston-based Renaissance Weekend gets under way today with a guest list that includes some of the nation's luminaries from the fields of art, law, medicine, politics and science.

The gathering, headquartered at Charleston Place Hotel, is expected to bring 1,100 participants to the city to take part in 500 lectures, seminars, discussions and performances. The event concludes with song at the stroke of the New Year.

Event founder Phil Lader, a city resident and former ambassador to the Court of St. James, said this "granddaddy of ideas festivals" draws a wide range of participants with diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

"It has always been a celebration of the power of ideas and relationships," Lader said Monday. "Civility is the dominant theme. The discussion traditionally brings more light than heat."

This year's participants include outed former CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson; Obama administration "Drug Czar" Gil Kerlikowski; Physics Nobel laureate Bill Phillips; Space Shuttle commander Mark Kelly; astronaut Joan Higginbotham; and Tiananmen Square revolt leader and hedge fund manager Li Lu.

Other participants come from business and finance, education, religion, the media, science and technology, sports, nonprofits and the arts.

Additional attendees include National Public Radio host Scott Simon; former Interior secretaries Bruce Babbitt and Dirk Kempthorne; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Charles Savage and Alex Jones; former congressman, NBA player, Olympian and Rhodes scholar Tom McMillen; CNN political commentator Roland Martin; "Passages" author Gail Sheehy; and sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Lader and his wife, Linda, founded the nonpartisan retreat in 1981 to bring together innovative leaders from diverse fields. Ideas and challenges from the events spurred hundreds of participants to start businesses, found nonprofit organizations and establish private foundations, officials said. More than a dozen marriages also resulted from couples meeting at these weekends.

This year's programs cover topics such as "Restoring the American Dream," "What Christians Don't Understand about Islam," "The Coarsening of American Culture," "Is Estrogen the new Ritalin?" and "Making Sense of the Wine List."

Participation is closed for this week's events. Attendees submit biographies and references, and a group decides who is invited, said Lader, chairman of WPP, the world's largest advertising/media services company.

The 30th anniversary edition of the Renaissance Weekend in Charleston will include the following participants:

Physics Nobel laureate Bill Phillips

Former Bush administration Interior Secretary, U.S. Sen. and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne

Former Clinton administration Interior Secretary and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt

Obama administration 'Drug Czar' Gil Kerlikowski

Former Clinton administration education secretary and former S.C. Gov. Richard Riley

Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and astronaut Joan Higginbotham

Former top Afghanistan CIA agent and U.S. Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism Hank Crumpler

Internet guru Esther Dyson

Ohio State University President Gordon Gee

Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow

American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene

'(500) Days of Summer' & 'Pink Panther' screenwriter Scott Neustadter

U.S. Civil Air Patrol Commander-General Amy Courter

Former Australian Treasury Secretary John Dawkins

Tiananmen Square revolt leader and hedge fund manager Li Lu

First lady Barbara Bush's former chief of staff, Susan Porter Rose

'Passages' author Gail Sheehy

Evangelists Tony Campolo and Leighton Ford

HIV virus discoverer and biologist Flossie Wong-Stahl

Hedge fund managers Samuel Gottesman, Peter Kellner and Jeff Weber

Conservative direct mail guru Richard Viguerie

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Charles Savage and Alex Jones

Financial writer Andrew Tobias

Former CIA agent Valerie Plame, and her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson

Snapfish founder Bala Parsatharathy

Financial Services Roundtable president, former Dallas Mayor and Republican Congressman Steve Bartlett

Emmy-winning National Public Radio host Scott Simon

MacArthur Prize-winning education professor Howard Gardner

Former Congressman, NBA Player, Olympian and Rhodes Scholar Tom McMillen

Web pioneers/entrepreneurs Michael Tiemann, Brad Horowitz, Ben Nelson and Jordan Mendelson

CNN political commentator Roland Martin

20th Century Fox Executive Producers Steven Puri and Lauren Neustadter

US Pension Benefit Guarantee Fund Chairman Josh Gotbaum

Yale and Princeton theologians Lamin Sanneh and Elaine Pagels

Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer

SAS Institute co-founder John Sall

Newsweek contributing editor and TV commentator Eleanor Clift

'You Just Don't Understand' and 'Talking 9-5' author Deborah Tannen

Former CNN business anchor Myron Kandel

African Methodist Episcopal Bishops Vashti McKenzie and Bill Deveaux

MIT media sociologist Sherry Turkle

Economics historian John Steele Gordon

Norton Utilities developer and arts patron Peter Norton

Conservation ecologist Stuart Pimm

'Washington's Most Quoted Pundit' and American Enterprise Institute Scholar Norm Ornstein

Former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Gillian Sorensen

American Council on Education and former University of North Carolina President Molly Broad

'God's Politics' author Jim Wallis

Congressmen Rush Holt and Gabby Giffords

Emmy-winning 'Daily Show' writer Kevin Bleyer

'Fortune Cookie Chronicles' author Jenny 8 Lee

Yale Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge

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