Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Crusades: God's Battalions

Long term readers of hebel might remember that one of my earliest post's was on the real history of the Crusades. American sociologist Rodney Stark has just released a new book on the crusades that I read over the October long weekend.

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades is Stark's attempt to redress the imbalance in Crusader history. Stark not only reviews the several major Crusades from 1095 to 1291, he also explores the history of the Muslim occupation of formerly Christian lands in the Middle East since the seventh century. The status quo in Crusader historiography is to explain the Crusades as the beginning of European colonialism. Barbarian Christians from the 'dark ages' victimized the cultivated and tolerant Muslims of the Middle East in the European quest for land (especially all those un-landed second sons), treasure and converts.

In contrast, Stark argues that the Crusades arouse out of a deep devotion from the Christians in response to centuries of Muslim aggression towards Christian nations and pilgrims. His central thesis is:
"The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot or converts. The Crusaders sincerely believed that they served in God's battalions."
Stark also wants to argue that the 'Dark Ages' were much more technologically and culturally advanced than we often recognize. He also contends with the idea that ancient wisdom and philosophy was passed down to the West from Islam. It is both convincing and balanced. Philip Jenkins, author of The Lost History of Christianity (reviewed by me here) writes:
"Through his many books, Rodney Stark has made us rethink so much of what we had assumed about the history of Christianity and its relations with other faiths, and now God's Battalions launches a frontal assault on the comfortable myths that scholars have popularized about the Crusades. The results are startling. His greatest achievement is to make us see the Crusaders on their own terms."
With so much Islamic and atheist propaganda directed towards the Crusades, where Christians are portrayed as brutal colonizers, this 248 page book is worth picking up and engaging with our history.


Tim O'Neill said...

Stark's book might seem to make a plausible case to the non-specialist, but critical analysis shows it is riddled with errors, full of convenient use of selective evidence and undermined by flawed arguments. He manages to debunk a few myths about the Crusades, but his apologetic argument simply does not work.

For detailed critical analysis see:


Matthew Moffitt said...

Thanks Tim. Having studied the Crusader period at uni, I'm not sure that I completely agree with you.

But I'm sure Stark would appreciate your analysis.

Tim O'Neill said...

Thanks Tim. Having studied the Crusader period at uni, I'm not sure that I completely agree with you.

And having studied the Medieval period and the Crusades for over 25 years, I wonder what you disagree with about my review.