As a follow up to a recent post on the scholarship of retired Cambridge University scholar Jonathan Riley-Smith, I also wanted to highlight (briefly) the work of UNC-Chapel Hill professor Marcus Bull (formerly at the University of Bristol), another influential crusade historian that has made an important argument concerning the religious roots of the crusading movement. With a focus on religious and social history, Bull has (like Riley-Smith) convincingly emphasized the religious appeal of crusading to knights in an important essay and book- both published in 1993.In these works, Bull refuted the long held Erdmann thesis, which argued that the rise of the crusading movement could be explained by papal schemes, inspired by the Peace and Truce of God movements, to simply export violent and rowdy trouble making knights to the Holy Land, thereby restoring peace at home and securing the resurgent papacy’s political power in Europe. Bull takes a different approach as he notes that where the Erdmann approach is most “open to criticism is in its emphasis upon the priorities of a small number of important prelates, canonists and theologians,” to the exclusion of the overwhelming majority of those who actually went on the crusade.
See also: https://apholt.com/2017/07/28/the-most-influential-crusade-historians/
In any consideration of historians’ arguments about the appeal of the First Crusade to the earliest crusaders (as well as the circumstances by which it came about), Jonathan Riley-Smith must be front and center. No other scholar has had as much of an impact on the field of crusade studies over the past forty years than the now retired Cambridge University historian. Indeed, it is not an understatement to note that Riley-Smith, as the author of more than a dozen influential books and many influential essays, has revolutionized the modern historiography of the crusades. This was accomplished not only through his many important publications, but also the many doctoral students he taught at Cambridge who are now also professors at various institutions in North America and Europe that reflect his influence. His influence is also reflected in his role as a founder of the Society for the Study of the Crusades in the Latin East, the world’s leading scholarly society for the study of the crusades. Continue reading
Karen Armstrong is a former nun who writes broadly on political and religious issues including the crusades and Islam. As a well known critic of modern western attitudes towards Islam, Armstrong has often sought to draw attention to what she sees as historical injustices carried out by westerners in the East. She lists the crusades among these injustices. For example, in her work, Islam: A Short History, she writes:
It was, for example, during the Crusades, when it was Christians who had instigated a series of brutal holy wars against the Muslim world, that Islam was described by the learned scholar-monks of Europe as an inherently violent and intolerant faith, which had only been able to establish itself by the sword. The myth of the supposed fanatical intolerance of Islam has become one of the received ideas of the West. [pp. 179-180]
Of all of those currently writing on the crusades, her work is probably among the most popular and well known to the general public. In my case, I have had history students who have read her books in other settings come to me confused about apparent contradictions between what they were learning in my class and what they read in her book. I also once had a member of the general public, after reading a guest column I once wrote for the Florida Times Union, email me for the same reason, seeking clarification. The reason for these contradictions is because I have been trained as a medieval historian and work within the current dominant historiography of the crusades, much of which is decidedly at odds with some of the claims Armstrong makes in her works.