Holy Wars in Sacred Lands: Conflict and Coexistence during the Crusades

Module code: HS2367

The Crusades were undoubtedly one of the most famous episodes of religious conflict and a central phenomenon of the High Middle Ages. The aim of this module is to question the traditional popular narratives about the Crusades, investigate their complex causes and consequences, and move away from the national histories by placing the Crusades in a European as well as a ‘global’ context by discussing non-Western perspectives. We will first explore the origins of the idea of crusading, combining concepts of holy war, medieval popular religion, and apocalyptic fears. We will also draw the comparison with the Islamic concept of Jihad and investigate the role of Jerusalem. Secondly, the module will provide a full overview of the crusading campaigns in the Near East, from the calling of the First Crusade in 1095 to the Fall of Acre in 1291. We will look into the experiences and motivations of the crusaders, techniques of waging war, and the establishment of the Crusader States. We will discuss the role of figures such as Godfrey of Bouillon, Queen Melisende, Baldwin IV ‘The Leper King’, Richard the Lionheart, Saint Francis, and King Louis IX of France. We will also focus on the response in the Muslim world, looking at the achievements of figures such as Imad ad-Din Zengi, Saladin, and the Mamluk sultan Baibars, and at the impact of the Mongols under Genghis Khan. While the focus of this module lies on the Crusades in the Near East, we will also briefly explore other theatres of crusading such as the Reconquista in Spain, the Crusades against heretics in Southern France, and the Baltic Crusades. Moreover, we will look at the cultural impact of the crusades in both East and West. We will investigate the interaction between Western Christians and Indigenous Muslim and Eastern Christian populations throughout these two centuries, discussing the ways in which ‘the other’ and their religion were perceived, trade, art and material culture, and the exchange of ideas and knowledge. Finally, the module will look at the way in which the Crusades continue to have a cultural impact in modern times, both in the West and the Islamic world, and how crusade rhetoric and symbolism has been used in modern politics and conflicts, such as the Pan-Arabic movement, the Palestine-Israel conflict, and the US ‘War on Terror’. Recent years have seen a wealth of research and debate, moving away from the traditional scholarship on the crusades. Students have access to extensive digital resources and a rich library collection on the topic. New translations into English from fascinating Arabic, Latin, Medieval French, and Greek primary sources are easy to access and offer opportunities for a critical comparison of different perspectives.