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NEH Announces Bridging Cultures Programs for Libraries across America

June 2, 2012 | By NEH Staff

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the American Library Association (ALA) present Muslim Journeys, the first in a planned series of Bridging Cultures “Bookshelves.” Through this initial program focused on the history and diverse cultures of Muslims in America and around the world, NEH will provide free books, films and on-line resources to enhance libraries’ collections and enable them to create new programs for their communities.

Watch seven short films on art from Muslim societies at the Muslim Journeys website.

This project is a leading effort in Chairman Jim Leach’s Bridging Cultures initiative, which has highlighted the importance of civility in American life and embraced the role of libraries in fostering community conversations that bring the humanities to the public in new ways. “There may be no institution more civil than the public library,” Leach said. “Libraries are centers of learning that offer a welcome space where members of the public can learn about the history we share and express different points of view in an ethos of openness and mutual respect.”

The Muslim Journey grant opportunity, one of a substantial  number of NEH programs offered over the years in comparative religion, was formally announced at ALA’s annual conference in Anaheim, CA, on June 24, 2012. All public libraries, community college and academic libraries, and state humanities councils are invited to apply for a set of the Muslim Journeys collection by submitting an online application by October 25, 2012.

Download a PDF booklet on the NEH Bridging Cultures: Muslim Journeys Bookshelf here.

Muslim Journeys

The Muslim Journeys Bookshelf seeks to provide the nation’s libraries—and in turn their patrons—with a selection of resources that will introduce readers to diverse perspectives on the people, places, histories, beliefs, practices, and cultures of Muslims in the United States and around the world. Although there are hundreds of books, films, magazine articles, and Web resources available on these topics, this “Bookshelf” was chosen especially for public audiences, based on the advice of scholars, librarians, and other humanities educators and program experts.

The Bookshelf’s curators envision inquiry and conversations on five different themes, each developed by a nationally known scholar:

American Stories – developed by Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Reed College, to bring to light the varied experiences of Muslims in America since colonial times:

  • A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America by Leila Ahmed
  • Prince Among Slaves by Terry Alford
  • The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States, edited by Edward E. Curtis IV
  • Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel
  • The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam by G. Willow Wilson

Connected Histories – developed by Giancarlo Casale, University of Minnesota, to introduce the long history of shared influences that have tied Islam and the West together for centuries;

  • The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us The Renaissance by Jim Al-Khalili
  • In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh
  • When Asia Was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors, and Monks Who Created the “Riches of the East” by Stewart Gordon
  • Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf, translated by Peter Sluglett
  • The Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal

Literary Reflections – developed by Leila Golestaneh Austin, Johns Hopkins University, to look through the lens of literature at diverse expressions of Muslim faith and cultural traditions;

  • The Arabian Nights (anonymous), edited by Muhsin Mahdi, translated by Husain Haddawy
  • Minaret by Leila Aboulela
  • The Conference of the Birds by Farid al-Din Attar, translated by Dick Davis and Afkham Darbandi
  • Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi
  • Snow by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely

Pathways of Faith – developed by Frederick M. Denny, University of Colorado, to offer an overview of Islamic precepts placed in the context of history and other faith traditions;

  • Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan A. C. Brown
  • The Story of the Qur’an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Ingrid Mattson
  • The Children of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam by F. E. Peters
  • The Art of Hajj by Venetia Porter
  • Rumi: Poet and Mystic, edited and translated by Reynold A. Nicholson

Points of View – developed by Deborah Amos, international correspondent, National Public Radio, to sample compelling personal narratives depicting individual experiences in contemporary Muslim-majority societies.

  • In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
  • Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi
  • Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
  • House of Stone by Anthony Shadid
  • Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie

These themes are described in greater depth on ALA's website.

In addition to 25 books, the Bookshelf includes a DVD containing a series of short videos on art and architecture (“Art Spots”), three films, and a one-year subscription to Oxford Islamic Studies Online.

  • “Art Spots” developed by D. Fairchild Ruggles, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to integrate Islamic art and architecture into library discussions and learning.
  • Films
  • Prince Among Slaves (directed by Andrea Kalin, produced by Unity Productions Foundation, 2007)
  • Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World (directed by Rob Gardner, produced by Unity Productions Foundation, 2011)
  • Koran by Heart (directed by Greg Barker, produced by HBO documentary films, 2011)
  • Oxford Islamic Studies Online
  • Each awardee will receive a free subscription to Oxford Islamic Studies Online and its vast array of resources. For more information, consult the Frequently Asked Questions at

The resources comprising the Bookshelf were recommended, reviewed, and selected by distinguished scholars in the fields of anthropology, world history, religious studies, interfaith dialogue, the history of art and architecture, and world literature, as well as interdisciplinary fields such as Middle East studies, Southeast Asian studies, African studies, and Islamic studies. Six public libraries hosted focus groups to review many of the titles, and all titles were reviewed by ALA members with extensive library programming experience.

Muslim Journeys Website

Just before libraries receive their Bookshelves January 2013, NEH will launch a companion website with readers’ guides to each of the books, thematic essays, interviews with scholars and authors, specially commissioned videos on Islamic art, links to relevant websites, recommendations for further reading, and additional sources in print, image, sound, and video formats. The website is being developed through a partnership between two prestigious academic centers at George Mason University -- the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

The site will also include tools and tips for non-library organizations—faith-based or interfaith groups, civic organizations, book clubs, and others—to organize and host their own reading and discussion programs.

Library and community programs

In return for receiving a Bookshelf, libraries are required to organize programs that introduce the books and the Muslim Journeys themes to the library’s patrons and the broader community. Successful applicants will receive their Muslim Journeys collections in January 2013, and programs will take place between January 14, 2013, and December 31, 2013. In addition to the books, films, and other resources listed above, libraries will also receive supplementary materials for program promotion, including bookplates, bookmarks, and posters.

Very soon after distribution of the Bookshelves, NEH plans to announce support for additional programs that engage public audiences in discussions based on these materials. The shape of these programs is still to be determined.

Support for the development and distribution of the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf was provided by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, with additional support for the arts and media components from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.