Rethinking the Crusades
By Jacques Theron
Master’s Thesis, University of South Africa, 2014
Abstract: The study focuses on the unique phenomenon of society’s changing attitudes towards the Crusades. Right from its inception the Crusades made a lasting impact on history, an impact which is still evident in the present day. Several aspects contributed to the start of the Crusades, among them the world and ideology of the eleventh century, the era in which the Crusades began. In current times there have been calls demanding an apology for the Crusades, while at the same time some within Christianity have felt the need to apologise for the atrocities of the Crusades. The Crusades are often blamed for the animosity between Christians and Muslims, a situation worsened by the fact that leaders on both sides misuse the word ‘crusade’ for their own agendas. The thesis is written within a historiographical framework making use of both critical enquiry and historical criticism.
Introduction: The Crusades arguably represent one of the most interesting, yet most controversial periods in the history of the Church. More than just ideology, more than just another war or event in history, the Crusades constitutes an enigma that seems to transcend the boundaries of one’s imagination. Even at the time, the Crusades were more than just wars or military campaigns; for example, it also contained the important element of a devotional practice or religious exercise. Today, the Crusade influence can be seen across the world in novels, movies, sport teams and even restaurants. In addition the word ‘crusade’ also has commonplace in our vocabulary as we use it to refer to anything from an evangelistic campaign to the fight against hunger, poverty or any other worthy cause. In the modern political sphere the word ‘crusade’ has also been known to appear in the rhetoric of politicians as they lash out against their enemies.
In reality, the average person’s knowledge about the Crusades is limited to possibly envisioning heroic knights on horseback, each of their shields boldly portraying a large red cross, galloping off into battle against a Muslim hoard, to defend the innocent and safeguard the bastions of Christianity. In the western world especially, the Crusaders would arguably be seen as the heroes in the minds of the average lay citizen. Their peers in the Muslim world would however undoubtedly think of the Crusaders as murderers, rapists and thieves who pillaged and plundered their way to the Holy Land. Generally therefore, the identification of the guilty party during the Crusades would depend mostly on whom you’re asking.
In addition to this, we must also acknowledge the fact that in the present day, the Crusades are becoming all the more controversial as an increasing number of people add their voices to those already asking forgiveness or demanding an apology for the atrocities committed by the Christians during the Crusades. This interesting phenomenon confirms the fact that present day attitudes towards the Crusades are changing. The questions that remain to be answered however are the reasons behind these changing attitudes towards the Crusades, as well as the extent of these changing attitudes.