Category Archives: Uncategorized

Counting “Religious Wars” in the Encyclopedia of Wars

Over the last few years I have noticed a relatively common online tactic in refuting the argument that “religion is the cause of most wars or violence” is to cite Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod Encyclopedia of Wars, a monumental three volume encyclopedia of ancient, medieval, and modern wars published in 2005. Online, one will find memes like the one below, that shows only a relatively small number of the 1,763 wars cataloged by Phillips and Axelrod, 123 to be precise, were considered “religious wars.” Continue reading

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More Myths of the Crusades: A Panel Discussion at Leeds in 2019.

I’d encourage any interested readers of this blog attending the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds in the summer of 2019 to consider attending the following round table discussion sponsored by the Northern Network for the Study of the Crusades.

More Myths of the Crusades: A Follow up to Seven Myths of the Crusade – A Round Table Discussion

The panel includes a range of junior and senior scholars who, as a follow up to the 2015 book Seven Myths of the Crusades, will be considering additional crusade myths.

The panelists include:

Among the topics that will be considered are the following: Continue reading

The 20th century’s Bloodiest “Megamurderers” according to Prof. R.J. Rummel

“The more constrained the power of governments, the more power is diffused, checked, and balanced, the less it will aggress on others and commit democide. At the extremes of power, totalitarian communist governments slaughter their people by the tens of millions; in contrast, many democracies can barely bring themselves to execute even serial murderers.”

Prof. R.J. Rummel, Death By Government (New Brunswick and London: Transaction, 1994), 2. Continue reading

Religion and the 100 Worst Atrocities in History

I recently had the chance to review Matthew White’s The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities (New York & London: W.W. Norton, 2012). Including an introduction by Harvard’s Steven Pinker, it offers an impressive 669-page analysis of, according to the author, the “one hundred events with the largest man-made death tolls, regardless of who was involved or why they did it.” (p. XIV)

I found White’s book both engaging and interesting because I am considering the historic impact of religion on warfare for an essay I am currently working on. As a result, I am in the process of surveying multiple works like this in an attempt to systematically count how many past wars have been inspired primarily by religious motivations, which will be one component of the essay. Indeed, religion has often been criticized as a primary source of conflict, with among the most notable recent examples coming from the neuroscientist Sam Harris, a prominent critic of the historic impact of religion on ancient and modern societies. Indeed, in his 2004 book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York & London: W.W. Norton, 2004), Harris referred to religious faith as “the most prolific source of violence in our history.” (p. 27) Harris is certainly not alone in making such claims, as they have been repeated by many others, both historically and today.

Regardless of the prevalence of criticisms of religion and its role in historical human violence, White’s study of the one hundred worst atrocities in history would seem to provide a counter to such claims by Harris and others. This is because of the one hundred events White lists in his detailed study, he only lists eleven of them under the category of “Religious Conflict” (p. 544) and two more under the category of “Human Sacrifice,” (p. 548) for thirteen atrocities equaling only 13% of the total. I have included the “Human Sacrifice” category in this case with religious conflicts because, as White notes, “ritualized killing was performed in hopes of earning the favor of supernatural forces.”

His lists include the following: Continue reading

Books by FSCJ Historians

My institution, Florida State College at Jacksonville, is a former community college that now offers four year degrees. The transition from a community college to a “state college” has been slow and incomplete as we remain, at heart, a community college. As a result, there is no publishing requirement for its historians although academic publications do count toward “professional development” in the awarding of tenure or “continuing contract.” Moreover, while we have heavy teaching loads, the college supports its historians through the option of taking one year sabbaticals during which a professor can work on a book.

Even with such a benefit, however, writing can be a challenge as we teach what are known as 5/5 loads, meaning our professors teach five courses in the fall and five in the spring, unlike research universities or liberal arts colleges that have teaching loads typically in the 2/2 or 3/3 range. Even a 4/4 load would be a significant reduction from the requirements of our professors. Yet even with these challenges our historians have, it seems to me, been exceptionally productive (solely for the love of writing about history) when it comes to academic publishing.

Below is a chronologically arranged list of books by FSCJ historians published (or forthcoming) by various academic presses. It will be updated over time.  Continue reading

Kingdom of Heaven

*This following post is adapted from an older 2005 blog post on my now defunct crusades-encyclopedia website and needs, eventually, further updating.

Few films have caused as much of a stir among crusades historians and students as Kingdom of Heaven. The film was directed by Ridley Scott and although it was not released until 2005, various commentaries and criticisms by those who had been given access to the film’s script began appearing in the press several months in advance.

The film focused on the crusading movement in the Levant in the years shortly before the calling of the Third Crusade [c. 1187]. The highlight of the film is Saladin’s siege of Jerusalem and the events leading up to the capture of the city from the crusaders. Viewers are guided through both historical and fictional events from the perspective of the film’s main character, the historical Balian of Ibelin.

While some Muslim groups ultimately expressed praise for the film, many crusades historians did not. The traditional battle between scholarly and popular views of the crusades flared as a result, with some prominent scholars denouncing the director’s claim to historical reliability. Consequently, judging by the nature of most news stories released during and after the production of the movie, the debate over the film’s depiction of historical events became, perhaps, a bigger story than the release of the film. Continue reading

Writing the Crusades: An Interview with Dr. Laurence W. Marvin

I first read Prof. Laurence W. Marvin’s The Occitan War: A Military and Political History of the Albigenian Crusade, 1209-1218 soon after it came out in 2008. I was still in graduate school at the University of Florida at the time and remember how formative it was on my understanding of the Albigensian Crusade, a topic I have otherwise not really studied in great depth as most of my research has since revolved around the First Crusade. I recall enjoying the book quite a bit, as did many reviewers at the time. Prof. David S. Bachrach, for example, referred to The Occitan War as a “benchmark for the writing of military and political history…” and noted that “all future discussions of the Albigensian Crusade will have to begin with this study.”

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Fast forward roughly nine years later and I found myself composing a blog post on medieval historians and their military service. A mutual friend mentioned that Prof. Marvin had an interesting career in the military and that I should consider reaching out to him, which I did by email. Fortunately, Larry, as he now lets me call him, was interested enough to allow me to include his fascinating account of his four years of service as an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy working on a fast attack submarine! The account of his service, and that of other great medieval historians included in the piece, is well worth reading. Pushing my luck, I then bothered Larry once again about contributing to a blog post in which 34 medieval historians provided annotated lists of the “Most Important Books on the Crusades,” which Larry once again kindly contributed to. Lest Larry think he could then escape, Prof. John D. Hosler invited both of us to participate on a panel together at the annual meeting for the Society of Military History in Louisville Kentucky on April 6, 2018. This took place at a time when I served as an external member of a M.A. thesis committee at the University of North Florida for a student considering the Albigensian Crusade. Guess whose book on The Occitan War was an important element of that thesis? Go ahead…guess. Continue reading