John Brademas, President Emeritus of New York University and former member of the United States House of Representatives, opened the conference by welcoming participants to a gathering based on the hope of improving relations between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Drawing on his 22 years serving in the House of Representatives, Mr. Brademas argued that institutions of higher education and culture can play a key role in increasing understanding between people of different faiths and cultures.
Universities, with their history of free inquiry and expanding knowledge, can play a important role in promoting dialogue and mutual understanding. While serving on Capitol Hill, Mr. Brademas authored two measures designed to improve understanding of different cultures, one of which was the International Education Act of 1966, authorizing federal grants to colleges and universities for the study of other countries and cultures. The second was the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Act of 1975, which has enabled Americans every year, in museums and galleries across the country, to view an extraordinary number of art objects and artifacts from other nations, and has enabled American art to be shared around the world. In defending both pieces of legislation Mr. Brademas argued that the reason the United States has suffered such serious problems in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is our ignorance of the histories, the societies, the cultures and languages of those countries.
As president of New York University from 1981 to 1992, Mr. Brademas strove to transform NYU from a regional commuter institution to a national and international residential research institution, and thusly invested heavily in international education. NYU now has thousands of students from an estimated 130 countries attending classes,. Particularly importantly, New York University has a number of centers abroad–in London, Paris, Prague, Florence, Madrid, Ghana, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, and Tel Aviv. This September marked the opening semester of the new NYU Abu Dhabi campus. NYU Abu Dhabi serves the Middle East as a portal to the global university that is NYU, with its first class of students drawn from the region, the U.S. and the rest of the world. The hope is that the enterprise will serve as a contribution to the free flow of ideas and intellectual exchange in the Middle East.
Mr. Brademas pointed to his major new endeavor, the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress, which is partnering with institutions in the United States and overseas as part of its Project on Cultural Diplomacy: a series of conferences to raise the profile of international cultural exchange. In 2009, the Brademas Center released a report to Congress and the President entitled Moving Forward: A Renewed Role for American Arts and Artists in the Global Age, which called for an expansion of international arts and cultural exchanges. The report recommended that international arts and cultural exchanges be integrated into the planning strategies of U.S. policymakers as a key element of public diplomacy, as essential to U.S. national security and the promotion of American interests around the globe. The arts community has observed firsthand the value of international artistic exchanges in promoting moderation and tolerance among widely diverse religious and cultural groups. It is critical that such exchanges be two-way, person-to-person endeavors in order to promote the human connection, and in order to sustain such connections over time. Also, cultural exchanges must be sensitive to local needs, practices, and aspirations.
Mr. Brademas ended by emphasizing that universities and cultural institutions, through programs like this symposium on “How to Make the Mediterranean Space a Community of Reason, Tolerance, Progress, and Prosperity,” can do much to fight ignorance and intolerance and promote dialogue between persons of different faiths. While many gather here in New York for such an enterprise, Mr. Brademas especially urged countries in the Arab world to fund programs that appeal to the common purpose of relations with neighboring states and regions.Back to the top.