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About the Institute

What is the relationship between Blues music and the Muslim call to prayer? In what ways does physically writing the Qur’an and rendering it in calligraphy affect a Muslim’s experience of the text? Why has the most watched TV program in Arab-majority countries been poetry talent competitions “Million’s Poet” and “Prince of Poets”?  These are some of the questions we explore in our NEH summer institute, A Reverence for Words: Understanding Muslim Cultures through the Arts. 


With generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), City Lore presents A Reverence for Words: Understanding Muslim Cultures through the Arts. The institute offers K-12 educators windows onto the history and social and political fabric of a variety of Muslim societies and cultures through an examination of their poetry, music, dance, and visual arts. Over two weeks, we meet with a distinguished group of academics and artists, who through seminars and workshops, introduce us to arts from Arab-majority regions, as well as Central, South, and West Asia, West Africa, and North Africa and North America. We also explore sung poetry and dance of Muslim Filipinos from Mindanao, as well as two dance cultures: north Indian Kathak dance and Rai music and dance from Algeria. We also include field trips to relevant sites, including the Islamic Wing of the Metropolitan Museum and the Indo-Persian-inspired gardens of Untermyer Gardens Conservancy in Yonkers, NY.


Throughout the institute, we explore historical and contemporary Muslim society and cultures to give educators, and ultimately their students, tools, content, and resources for deepening their understanding of Muslim cultures.

Clockwise from top left: visit to the Metropolitan Museum’s Islamic Wing; visit to the Islamic Cultural Center; Sufi music concert with Amir Vahab & Ensemble at Poets House; (L-R) 2018 Summer Scholars Daniel Moses, Saji James, and Zachary Wilson; poet Haleh Liza at the “Poetic Duels” event; audience member participating in the “sheyr jangi” duel.

"Poetry’s potential to create indelible images, to extend the reach of language, and to express complex ideas and feelings through metaphor makes it a powerful force for illuminating cultural experiences."


A Reverence for Words draws on two NEH-funded programs created by City Lore and Poets House: Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World, a series of talks, readings, panels, and symposia held in the spring of 2011 in New York City; and Poetic Voices of the Muslim World (2012-present), a project which examines the central role of poetry in the everyday lives of Muslims through three entry points: a website, a speakers bureau, and an exhibit on Muslim poetry, which has traveled to ten public libraries in U.S. cities.


Amir Vahab and Ensemble performing at Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World 2011


City Lore

Founded in 1986, City Lore is New York City’s center for urban folk culture. Our mission is to foster New York City – and America’s – living cultural heritage through education and public programs in service of cultural equity and social justice.  City Lore encompasses a Lower East Side gallery space, performances, lectures, the People’s Hall of Fame, a POEMobile that projects poems onto walls and buildings, and programs throughout the five boroughs. We document, present, and advocate for New York City’s grassroots cultures to ensure their living legacy in stories and histories, places and traditions. We work in four cultural domains: urban folklore and history; preservation; arts and humanities education; and grassroots poetry traditions. In each of these domains, we City Lore seeks to further cultural equity and model a better world with projects as dynamic and diverse as New York City itself.

The Institute Project Co-Directors, Sahar Muradi and Dr. Amanda Dargan, both work in City Lore’s Education Programs, which brings a uniquely cultural perspective and rich community contacts and resources to arts education. To learn more about our approach and programs, please explore our Education pages on the City Lore website here

City Lore's brick and mortar, decorated with "Calligraffiti" by 2016 Summer Scholar Lavie Raven.

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