MES 390 • HOLY WAR REDUX
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Since Sept 11, 2001, the centuries-long European phenomenon known as "the Crusades" has been invoked by individuals from various points of the political spectrum. A massive expansion of university courses on crusades has also followed, along with a proliferation of new articles and books on the subject of crusades. Indeed, taking a position on the Crusades has become an important enterprise of self-legitimation (perhaps even of self-credentialing). The assumption, in all this, is that the crusades and crusading history are known and knowable: that people know what they were, even when they disagree on details. Yet the crusades were, in many ways, arguably strange and uncanny, estranged from their own time. Neither Alexius I, the Byzantine emperor who helped to occasion the First Crusade, the Seljuk Turks in the Levant, the Fatimids in the Maghreb, the militant pilgrims of the First Crusade, nor Urban II, who issued the call to wrest the Holy Land back from the infidels, seemed to grasp what the enterprise was, or meant. Is it possible the crusades were shadowed by a temporality not entirely medieval, which today facilitates the redeployment of crusade history as if it were coeval with contemporary time? Confident evocations of "New" Crusades, by the left and the right, suggest also that our own era is uneasily haunted and interleaved by medieval time. This seminar is an invitation to ask questions that re-open standard conceptualizations of the crusades, and of their status in our world today. We will circulate old and new texts, attempting a dialectic between original medieval documents, contemporary cultural theory, and studies in international relations. Questions we might pose include: what is the status of God, for communities at war who invoke God, and for historiographies of crusading, if God (pace Dipesh Chakrabarty) is unhistoricizable, a nuisance to history? We will revisit master narratives like the Lewis-Huntington "clash of civilizations" thesis and Said's Orientalism, reconsider Islamic culture heroes like Saladin, who appear to bridge cultures, and Islamic villains like the Nizari Ismailis-- better known as the Assassins, and offered as forerunners of modern terrorist groups-- who seem to bridge temporalities. We will attempt to read documents from at least 9 crusades.