Special Issue "Religion and the Crusades"
A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 September 2019
Not many historical events have attracted as much attention as the crusades. When the first armed pilgrims embarked on what would later be known as The First Crusade (1096-1099) contemporary chroniclers tried very hard to make sense out of this novel occurrence within Western Christendom. For want of a better term, the participants were simply referred to as pilgrims (peregrini) partaking in an expedition (expeditio) or simply undertaking a journey (iter) with the main goal of liberating of the holy city of Jerusalem. The crusade, however, was no ordinary pilgrimage nor a conventional military campaign. Instead, Pope Urban II had marked this undertaking as a unique enterprise and a truly holy war, granting the partakers a remission of sins when fighting against the enemies of God. Imitating Christ, the crusaders would mark themselves with a cross, turning the act of fighting and killing into an act of penance and the uttermost expression of a deep and sincere Christian faith – a true imitatio Christi. Consequently, the crusades came to influence not only the religious life of medieval Christendom but also the entire history of Europe for centuries to come.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the history of the crusades has attracted a lot of attention from scholars wishing to understand these crucial events that sprang from some very strong religious notions within Western Christendom. The crusades came to involve a wide range of non-Catholic and Muslim societies around the Mediterranean Sea, heterodox movements within Christendom, as well as pagan peoples living along Europe’s north-eastern frontiers. The making of Europe, it has been argued, essentially sprang from these processes of crusading, conquest, and Christianization throughout the medieval period (Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe, Penguin Books 1993). A difficult task for the scholars, however, has been to properly define a crusade – what constituted a proper crusade compared to other types of war, missionary wars etc. (Norman Housley, Contesting the Crusades, Blackwell Publishing 2006), and what motivated the crusaders to leave their homes on such extremely dangerous endeavours (Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusaders 1095-1131, Cambridge UP 1997)? The crusades also led to various cultural and religious encounters bringing the perception of “otherness” to the forefront of current research (Nicholas Morton, Encountering Islam on the First Crusade, Cambridge UP 2016; Paul M. Cobb, The Race for Paradise. An Islamic History of the Crusades, Oxford UP 2014). Finally, the legacies of the crusades from the early modern period right until our modern times have also attracted the attention of modern researchers (Christopher Tyerman, The Debate on the Crusades, Manchester UP 2011).
The history of the crusades is, in essence, not only a study of the past. In recent years much attention has turned towards the use (or misuse) of the history of the crusade in contemporary political and religious discourses. Historical events related to the crusades are often used to define and explain current lines of interreligious or intercultural conflicts. This is often conducted through some very powerfully constructed narratives that refer to a continuous class of cultures (or even civilizations) from the time of Muslim expansion in the seventh century right until the present conflicts of the twenty-first century. The current fight against terrorism has been labeled a crusade with the terrorists themselves referring to their adversaries as crusaders fighting for the crusader state of Israel (Alfred J. Andrea and Andrew Holt, Seven Myths of the Crusades, Hackett Publishing 2015). Reflecting on our understanding of the Middle Ages in relation to European nationalism, a renowned scholar concluded that such a constructed narrative “has turned our understanding of the past into a toxic waste dump…” (Patrick J. Geary, The Myth of Nations. The Medieval Origins of Europe, Princeton 2002). This is equally true with regards to the perception of the crusades in relation to current discussions on classes of religions and/or cultures.
The overall scope of this Special Issue of Religions, titled “Religion and the Crusades in the Middle Ages and in Contemporary Imagination”, is to offer a general introduction to the history of the crusades with a special focus on the underlying religious ideas and their impact on spiritual life in medieval Europe. Furthermore, this issue addresses the use or misuse of the history of the crusade in contemporary political and religious discourses.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Carsten Selch Jensen
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- The history of the Crusades
- holy war
- war and Christianity