Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades

Article excerpt

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. By Rodney Stark (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009, Pp. 276. $24.99.)

In God's Battalions, Princeton sociologist of religion Rodney Stark seeks to dispel myths about the medieval Crusades and replace them with a more factual account. In popular histories and textbooks, the Crusades have been viewed as (among other things) a stain on the history of the Christian Church and a warm-up for later European colonialism. Both of these characterizations, argues Stark, do not comport with the facts. Stark argues that in approaching the Crusades one must understand them within the overall history of Islam's aggression against the West. The first chapters deal with the rapid expansion of Islam from Arabia throughout the former lands of Christendom. In light of this aggressive expansion as well as the massive persecution of non-Muslim populations (contrary to what Stake sees as the typical claims of Muslim tolerance), Stark argues some form of response was both logical and justifiable.

Having dispelled the myth of Islamic religious toleration, Stark next discredits the myth of Islamic technological and intellectual superiority. In other words, he believes the Crusades cannot be characterized as a superior and tolerant civilization being overrun by primitive and intolerant Barbarians. Rather, Islamic thinkers, scientists, and engineers were more prone to recycle the advances of earlier civilizations, rather than innovating. Stark notes that the few innovations that the Islamic civilization can point to often were often the result of the efforts of religious minorities within their midst, such as remnant Nestorian and Monophysite Christians.

By contrast, Europe during the Middle Ages was in many ways a vibrant and innovative culture. …

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