Articles

Rereading the Crusades: An Introduction

Rereading the Crusades: An Introduction

Rereading the Crusades: An Introduction

M. Powell, James

The International History Review, Vol. 4 (Nov., 1995)

Abstract

The very word ‘crusade’ stirs controversy. A colleague told me recently that a university in Pennsylvania had decided that their crusader mascot no longer represented the image they desired to project for their school. Yet a popular television programme wears the same badge proudly. There is nothing new about these differences. They are a product of the ‘parochialism in time’, as Bertrand Russell calls it, that has haunted our modern age, and their origin is to be found in popular views that have found refuge even in the works of respected historians. Many of those who have given thought to the matter have regarded the crusades as the product of religious fanaticism; others have viewed them as forerunners of European imperialism, the first hesitant steps towards European colonialism. But neither of these views is as influential among contemporary historians as the idea that the crusades sprang from an authentic religious concern for the liberation of the holy places, the establishment of Christian unity, and the protection of Christian minorities in Muslim lands. There is no line that would enable scholars to rule certain factors entirely in or out of this picture. Evidence of religious fanaticism among both Christians and Muslims can be found, but was it ever sufficient to be a primary cause, to shape the continuing commitment of the West to the crusades, or to play a similar part in Islamic attitudes towards the West?


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