The Crusades were penitential war-pilgrimages fought in the
Levant and the eastern Mediterranean, as well as in North Africa,
Spain, Portugal, Poland, the Baltic region, Hungary, the Balkans,
and Western Europe. Beginning in the eleventh century and ending as
late as the eighteenth, these holy wars were waged against Muslims
and other enemies of the Church, enlisting generations of laymen
and laywomen to fight for the sake of Christendom.
Crusading features prominently in today's religio-political
hostilities, yet the perceptions of these wars held by Arab
nationalists, pan-Islamists, and many in the West have been deeply
distorted by the language and imagery of nineteenth-century
European imperialism. With this book, Jonathan Riley-Smith returns
to the actual story of the Crusades, explaining why and where they
were fought and how deeply their narratives and symbolism became
embedded in popular Catholic thought and devotional life.
From this history, Riley-Smith traces the legacy of the Crusades
into modern times, specifically within the attitudes of European
imperialists and colonialists and within the beliefs of
twentieth-century Muslims. Europeans fashioned an interpretation of
the Crusades from the writings of Walter Scott and a French
contemporary, Joseph-François Michaud. Scott portrayed Islamic
societies as forward-thinking, while casting Christian crusaders as
culturally backward and often morally corrupt. Michaud, in
contrast, glorified crusading, and his followers used its imagery
to illuminate imperial adventures.
These depictions have had a profound influence on contemporary
Western opinion, as well as on Muslim attitudes toward their past
and present. Whether regarded as a valid expression of
Christianity's divine enterprise or condemned as a weapon of
empire, crusading has been a powerful rhetorical tool for
centuries. In order to understand the preoccupations of Islamist
jihadis and the character of Western discourse on the Middle East,
Riley-Smith argues, we must understand how images of crusading were
formed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Subjects: Religion, History
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