Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Crusade! Happy Jihad!

Actually, I don't recommend either one for a roaring good time, unless your tastes run to rivers of blood. This is just my flip way of saying I had a very good time myself preparing and teaching my special topics course on Crusade and Jihad this fall. I'm not exactly done with it yet, there's a final exam to write and plenty of grading to do both before and after the exam, but all of my lectures and accompanying PowerPoint presentations are done.

Part of the enjoyment of this course has been a feeling that the students are also really enjoying it. (Course evaluations will eventually show how much they enjoyed it.) But there has been an intellectual thrill to what I personally have been doing, too. About a quarter of a century ago, when I was a new assistant professor, I taught the Crusades as part of a course on the High Middle Ages. I did a thorough and conscientious job of preparing those crusade lectures. Therefore, it was to a certain amount of astonishment that I returned to the subject in the last year or so (I begin to think about new courses long in advance) and found that the whole subject had changed dramatically in the meantime. The new interpretations of the crusading era were in part a matter of new perspectives, but some of those new perspectives were rooted in hard basic research. What a thrill to catch up with all of that stuff, and be paid for it! Even when I disagreed with the conclusions of the scholars I was reading, I enjoyed the process of engagement immensely.

As for the jihad part of the course, self-education was even more drastic. I have been teaching a course on the history of Islamic civilization for over a decade now, so I wasn't coming to the history of Jihad completely ignorant. Yet looking around for material, I had an even bigger surprise than I did in connection with the crusade scholarship. I found myself using almost exclusively books and articles that have been produced in the last 10 years. Thanks in particular to Carole Hillenbrand, David Cook, Patricia Crone, Christopher Tyerman, and Capt. John "Garick" Chamberlain, I was able to do an adequate and maybe more than adequate job of showing the differences and similarities between crusade and jihad and how the two different ideals clash d in the medieval Middle East and to some degree later. But 10 years ago almost none of the good stuff available to me had even been published. I am grateful to those scholars for stepping into the breach; and I have a nice feeling of being not so far behind the cutting edge of research, even if in this case I am entirely dependent upon secondary works in European languages. And my students have benefited -- at least I hope so.

Image: someone's take on the fall of Constantinople, 1453.

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