"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jonathan-Riley Smith on the Crusades

The great Cambridge historian Jonathan Riley-Smith, the dean of Crusades scholars, has said that he despairs of the state of debate about the Crusades today, especially in the media, because the Crusades are invariably portrayed as gratuitous Christian violence against poor besotted Muslims. Almost no Muslim, until the 19th century, regarded the Crusades--if he knew of them at all, which most did not--as anything other than a footnote in Muslim-Christian relations. And no Christian of the time regarded the Crusades with the sanctimonious disdain that many of the bien-pensants do today. Today's that's all changed, of course: discussion about the Crusades is regularly abused for political reasons--almost always to bash Christianity and to give an apologia for Islamic violence against the West--and the historiography is subjected to all kinds of tendentious abuse. Additionally, many Christians disdain the Crusaders for not having been the pacifists today's Christians assume one must always be.

Smith's most recent attempt to cut through the nonsense is The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam (Bampton Lectures in America) (Columbia U. Press, 2008), 136pp. It will be reviewed by a medieval historian in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2011. 

This is a short work, based on a lecture he gave at Columbia. As an introductory text to the Crusades, it is a very fine and accessible book. For those with more advanced background, they will not find a lot here, but as I say this is a good place to begin. There are several other recent works on the Crusades, and I will discuss these once I've had a chance to read them.

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