MLA Response to Senator Jeff Sessions’s Letter to the NEH
The Executive Council approved the following statement at its October 2013 meeting.
In a letter to the National Endowment for the Humanities, Senator Jeff Sessions (AL), the ranking minority member on the Senate Budget Committee, asked the NEH to justify grant funds it has awarded this year. He argues that the NEH is fostering public discussions about “indefinite” philosophical questions and “promoting” Islamic cultures at the expense of Christian and Jewish cultures. The first criticism was addressed in an article by Jonathan Marks. In response to the second criticism, the Modern Language Association, the world’s largest scholarly association, affirms its trust in the NEH’s rigorous peer-review process and in the agency’s creative promotion of cultural dialogue. Programs like “Bridging Cultures through Law,” hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement, are designed, reviewed, and led by conscientious professionals to promote healthy debate, dialogue, and understanding. The NEH-funded program “Muslim Journeys Bookshelf” targeted by Senator Sessions shows precisely that Islam is not a “foreign” religion, somehow separate from Christianity, Judaism, and American history. Islam and Muslims have been a part of America’s fabric since the slave trade. Many of the books in “Muslim Journeys Bookshelf” feature American stories about and by former slaves who were Muslim. Another corner of the “Bookshelf” explores the deep interconnections of Islam and all the world’s histories and cultures. These programs promote not one culture or religion over others but, rather, the values of education in a democracy.