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God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades Paperback – November 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It always seems counterintuitive to moderns that warfare and religion can be consistent. Ideally, followers of the prince of peace are to avoid the sword and shield. Clearly, this has not always been the case. Frequently in the crosshairs of critics are the Christian wars against Muslims known as the Crusades, commonly viewed as the birth of European imperialism and the forced spread of Christianity. But what if we've had it all wrong? What if the Crusades were a justifiable response to a strong and determined foe? Stark, a prominent sociologist and author of 27 books on history and religion, has penned a compelling argument that these bloody encounters had less to do with spreading Christianity than with responding to an ever more dangerous enemy—the emerging Islamic empire. There is much to be learned here. Filled with fascinating historical glimpses of monks and Templars, priests and pilgrims, kings and contemplatives, Stark pulls it all together and challenges us to reconsider our view of the Crusades. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“GOD’S BATTALIONS launches a frontal assault on the comfortable myths that scholars have popularized about the crusades. The results are startling. His greatest achievement is to make us see the crusaders on their own terms.” (Philip Jenkins, author of The Lost History of Christianity)

“At last, a convincing, balanced book on the Crusades, far from the recent unsophisticated and ideological diatribes against them as “A Bad Thing.” Rodney Stark demonstrates that the Crusades were neither unprovoked nor colonialist. Here is yet another rich and readable book from this thoughtful and distinguished author.” (Jeffrey Burton Russell, author of A History of Heaven and Paradise Mislaid)

“An excitingly readable distillation of the new, revisionist Crusades historiography.” (Booklist (starred review))

“There is much to be learned here. Filled with fascinating historical glimpses of monks and Templars, priests and pilgrims, kings and contemplatives, Stark pulls it all together and challenges us to reconsider our view of the Crusades.” (Publishers Weekly)

“[Stark’s] new book, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, gives historic and sociological evidence for a fresh assessment of the Crusades.” (United Methodist Reporter)

“[Stark] wants to challenge the prevailing television pundit-level misunderstanding of the Crusades, and in this, his accessible, enjoyably argued book succeeds.” (Christianity Today)

“Award-winning author and sociologist Rodney Stark humbly goes to war against the many politically correct myths surrounding the history of the Crusades in this well-researched and easy-to-read academic masterpiece. Stark proves himself once again as a historical myth-buster.” (CBN.com, A+ rating)

“[Stark] makes the case [for the crusades] with admirable frankness and flair.” (The Catholic Thing)

“Rodney Stark turns what we ‘know’ about history on its head.” (Relevant Magazine)

“Stark’s style is clear and direct. He sets the pace of narrative masterfully...The result is a good read...Christian readers should welcome Stark’s affirmation of the best in scholarship, both old and new, and his willingness to argue a controversial position.” (Christian Scholar’s Review)

“Stark’s wonderfully readable prose and politically incorrect conclusions... point us to the question—Will 21st-century infiltration lead to surrender or revival?—on which Europe’s future hinges.” (The World Magazine)

“[God’s Battalions] rewards a careful reading, and not only because the story itself is sogripping, with tales of courage and desperation, outsized characters, and fate of cultures hanging in the balance. …Masterful… sets the record straight.” (National Catholic Register)

“[God’s Battalions] avoid[s] the black-and-white nonsense of current secular thinkers, who condemn the Crusades as part of their condemnation of the Catholic Church and of much later Western imperialism. …Stark demonstrate[s] a more sophisticated view of history, religion and culture.” (Catholic San Francisco)

“Stark’s clear, factual narrative offers larger-than-life characters…. [his] works are an encouraging corrective to the anti-Western history routinely taught in our schools.” (New Oxford Review)

“In God’s Battalions, Stark provides an account of the Crusades perfectly fitted for the Fox News audience. Clearly this is not the politically correct version of the Crusades, and that is fine: there is little that was politically correct about the Crusades in the first place.” (Christian Century)

“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…The historiographic arguments made by Stark regarding the antecedents and consequences of the Crusades are very convincing.” (Jack Kilcrease, Historical Society of the Episcopal Church)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061582603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061582608
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very few people have much good to say about the Crusades nowadays. Most think it was a terrible blight on Christian history, and cannot be condoned or justified in any way. Certainly during the past few centuries, Christianity has been attacked, and people have sought to discredit the faith, partly on the basis of the Crusades.

In such an atmosphere, this new book by Rodney Stark is as about as revolutionary as they come. He takes head on myth after myth surrounding the Crusades, and makes the case that the Crusades not only had a place, but were in fact in many ways justifiable. He clearly demonstrates that modern histories about the Crusades are among the great hatchet jobs of recent times.

Dispelling the many myths about the Crusades takes guts, and someone with the right intellectual and academic qualifications. Stark is certainly the man for the job: he has become one of our finest writers on the sociology and history of religion, and is unafraid to go against the tide.

In this important volume he debunks the historical revisionism (which is often coupled with anti-Christian bigotry) about the Crusades to offer us a more sober and clear picture of what in fact took place. He notes that it was especially during the time of the Enlightenment and onwards that critics claimed that the Crusaders were mainly Western imperialists, those who set out after land and loot.

Moreover, the contrast is often made between the bloodthirsty barbaric Christians, and the peace-loving Muslims. But as Stark persuasively documents, none of this is close to the truth. The real story is this: the Crusades were certainly provoked, and the Crusaders were mainly concerned to free the Holy Lands from Muslim oppression and to protect religious pilgrims who travelled there.
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Format: Hardcover
Dr Rodney Stark, who has written some of the most intelligent and readable books on religion in the last 20 years, has done it again. "God's Battalions" is an explosive retelling of the Crusades. And it will no doubt overturn the smug assumptions of many people.

Stark points out that the Crusades were not Christian wars of aggression. Pope Urban called for a Crusade because the emperor of Byzantium had written to him, begging for help. The letter "detailed gruesome tortures of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and vile desecrations of churches, altars, and baptismal fonts" (p 2). Moreover, Islamic armies stood within one hundred miles of Constantinople.

Vast stretches of once Christian lands were now in Muslim hands. The entire of North Africa, once so solidly Christian it had produced a pope and boasted of 500 bishoprics, now lay under Islamic rule. Egypt was lost, save for some pockets of Coptic Christians. Much of the Middle East was lost. Now, Muslim armies seemed poised to attack a weak Byzantium, and after that, a fractious, divided Europe. The situation appeared dire.

This is the background that so many of the modern critics of the Crusades ignore.

But Stark doesn't merely overturn beliefs about the Crusades. He points out that "the many claims that the Arabs achieved far more sophisticated medicine than had previous cultures are as mistaken as those regarding 'Arabic' numerals" (p 60), which in fact were Hindu numerals. The medical knowledge came via Nestorian Christians. In fact, most of what was regarded as Arabic culture "originated with the conquered populations" (p 61). These conquered populations contained the libraries of thousands of monasteries, thousands of churches.
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Format: Hardcover
The popular understanding of crusades history is that ignorant, intolerant, and over-agressive Western Christians suddenly invaded the cultured, tolerant, and peaceful Muslim Near-East bent on killing everyone who wasn't a Christian. In this book, Rodney Stark sets out to refute every one of those assumptions. He argues that the crusades were not unprovoked, the Christian West was not a backwards culture, the Muslims were not more intellectually advanced or more tolerant, and the crusaders were no more brutal in their warfare than the Muslims that they were fighting. On most of these counts Stark makes a convincing case.

Stark begins his account where few crusades historians do: at the rise of Islam. I've read a great many books about the crusades (it's my field of study), and almost every single one begins either with the loss of Byzantine territory to Turkish Muslims in the second half 11th century or, even less helpfully, with the campaign of Pope Urban II just prior to the First Crusade. Stark notices this, and points out the very important fact that the Muslims attacked first, capturing the Holy Land, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, and most of Spain from Christian control during the centuries prior to the First Crusade. The Crusaders were not simply trying to take territory from the Muslims, they were trying to take back territory the Muslims had taken from them by force during the great expansion of Islam in the early Middle Ages. It wasn't as if Christians suddenly decided to attack some innocent bystanders over in the Near East; the Near East had for centuries been Christian before bands of Islamic warriors took it by force from the Byzantine Empire. The West was further provoked by the recent (11th century) attacks on Christian pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem.
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