Religion is a shield against life’s assaults. But it is also a “terrible swift sword” unsheathed against the perceived enemies of divine righteousness. As a student of religious history, I have long been fascinated with the dual faces of devotion, especially religion’s sanctification of violence, but for many years did not expand my investigation of holy war beyond the boundaries of Christianity and Islam. That changed abruptly in 2003, while offering a seminar on the crusades at the Global History Center in Beijing. Discussion of Portuguese and Spanish crusades in the Indian Ocean and the Americas prompted a student, who was pursuing a PhD in global history, to ask if there are forms of holy war other than crusades and jihads that a world historian should be aware of. I was momentarily stumped, but promised a reply the next day.
The following essay is by Alfred J. Andrea, the former president of the World History Association and a noted medieval historian. In it, he provides his insights on the development, and challenges, of studying the Global Middle Ages.
Most historians who specialize in medieval Europe are ambivalent about the term “the Middle Ages.” While proudly calling themselves “medievalists” (from the Latin medium aevum—middle age), they insist that the millennium or more separating late Roman antiquity from the so-called early modern period was not a middle period in any meaningful way. And it certainly was not a valley of darkness between two lofty golden ages.
Even more problematical or worse in the eyes of many medievalists is the term “the Global Middle Ages.” How, they ask, can one apply such a questionable label as Middle Ages, itself the misbegotten product of out-of-date historical thinking, to the rest of the world? What did India’s Gupta Empire (ca. 320-ca. 550) have in common with the roughly contemporaneous Visigothic Kingdom or China’s Tang dynasty (618-907) with the Carolingian dynasty? What possible connection was there between the twelfth-century Toltecs of central Mesoamerica and the Hohenstaufens of central Europe, or between Mali’s Epic of Sundiata and the Nibelungenlied? Although historians who promote study of the Global Middle Ages might claim that finally medieval history has been shorn of its Eurocentrism, conceivably their critics could counter that applying an obviously Eurocentric label to non-Western cultures is another example of Western academic imperialism. Continue reading →
Above Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82)- Jehane le Pucelle. Source: Wikimedia
The following selection of text was cut from an early draft of Chapter 3, “Holy Wars in Defense of the Sacred,” in the forthcoming book (expected March 2021) Sanctified Violence: Holy War in World History. Rather than discarding it, the authors, Alfred J. Andrea, emeritus professor of history at the University of Vermont, and Andrew Holt, professor of history at Florida State College at Jacksonville, wanted to make it available here. The book, aimed primarily at a student readership, explores the various types of wars waged in the name of religion that have occurred around the world over the past 5,000 years. It will be offered by Hackett Publishing as part of their Critical Themes in World History Series. Please see more information about the project below.
While working on a book (Sanctified Violence: Holy War in World History) for Hackett Publishing that considers holy war in a broader world history context (co-authored with my friend and senior historian Alfred J. Andrea), I have spent the last year considering considering the various modes and types of holy war that have taken place within different faith traditions. Professor Andrea, as the former head of the World History Association and a leading world historian, has been a wonderful guide in directing me to important readings in areas beyond my normal research focus (Christian and Islamic holy war).
Two books I have read recently that may appeal to some of you who are interested in the broader topic of holy war are Sorrow Mountain: The Journey of a Tibetan Warrior Nun and Buddha’s Warriors: The Story of the CIA Backed Tibetan Freedom Fighters, the Chinese Invasion, and the Ultimate Fall of Tibet (both pictured above). Continue reading →