Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West

Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West

Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West

Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West

Synopsis

'Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror' examines the ways that Christian theology has shaped centuries of conflict from the Jewish-Roman War of late antiquity through the First Crusade, the French Revolution, and up to the Iraq War. By isolating one factor among the many forces that converge in war, the essential tenets of Christian theology, Philippe Buc locates continuities in major episodes of violence perpetrated over the course of two millennia.

Excerpt

I began writing on this theme—Christianity and violence—at the edge of the desert. The setting was Morocco, 2001–2002. The occasion was an Arabiclanguage collective volume devoted to the violence and the “religions of the book,” where I traced for a local audience some longue durée themes in the Western understanding of coercion. The trigger was an attempt to understand, like many others but as a medievalist, the by then already clear march to war. The medievalist realized, to his surprise, that he could make sense of some of the American president’s language. It became clearer, somehow, for instance, when set next to the letters of Pope Gregory VII. The enterprise mushroomed in the direction of a book when I gave a talk in 2004 at the École Française de Rome on “God’s Vengeance,” attempting to show the advantages of an exploration of First Crusade sources in the light of biblical exegesis. The question then became: What can traits specific to Western Christianity (and transported over time into less religious, “post-Christian” Western cultures) explain about mass violence in the West? As will become clearer to the reader in the course of his or her reading, it is a thought experiment concentrating on religion and ideology as conditions of possibility and leaving aside other factors at play in violence. The essay has also ended up focusing on Western bellicism to the detriment of Western pacifism, which these traits admittedly also help explain.

The bulk of the examination was conducted between 2004 and 2011, while I taught at Stanford University; and also on sabbatical in 2005–2006 at Yale. Some of my teaching fed into the research—in particular a course taught with Amir Weiner titled “Mass Violence in History” and a graduate seminar on secularity, which was accompanied by a small international conference on the topic.

Since I began thinking about this topic, powerfully conceptualized books have appeared focusing on medieval violence, a period central to this essay. Pride of place go to Norman Housley’s splendid Religious Warfare in Europe . . .

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