The Varieties of Religious Conflict in the Middle Ages

AHA Session 24
Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
McHenry Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
David Nirenberg, University of Chicago
The Audience

Session Abstract

The session will examine different aspects of religious conflicts that took place between the majority community of Catholic Christians and the minority ones of Muslims, Jews and Cathar heretics in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Uri Shachar will present a paper on the Jews; Hussein Fancy and Elizabeth Lapina will discuss the Muslims; and Ted Blanton and Walker Reid Cosgrove will deal with the Cathars. The session intentionally leaves aside the crusades in the Middle East, concentrating on encounters that took place in Europe and Western Mediterranean. The session hopes to continue the tradition of a comparative analysis of religious conflicts, whose fruitfulness was demonstrated in R. I. Moore’s The Formation of a Persecuting Society and David Nirenberg’s Communities of Violence. The goal of the session is to challenge some of the stereotypes regarding interactions between religious communities in the Middle Ages and present some new venues of inquiry.  

First, even in the midst of “religious conflicts,” confessional affiliation of the participants could be of secondary importance. Hussein Fancy will discuss the episode of Muslim soldiers fighting on the Christian side – and, like their Christian counterparts, displaying crosses – against Muslims in North Africa. Ted Blanton will analyze a major military conflict of the Albigensian Crusade, whose aim was the suppression of Catharism, that paradoxically took place between two Catholic leaders, Pedro II of Aragon and Simon of Montfort.

Second, one cannot ignore the factors other than “religion” in its narrow definition that influenced these conflicts. Walker Cosgrove will argue that daily practices, not dogma, held together the Cathar community in Southern France. Ted Blanton will make a claim that at the root of arguably the bloodiest battle of the Albigensian Crusade was not religion, but desire to defend one’s kinship network against an invader.

Third, these conflicts immediately became subject to a variety of uses. Elizabeth Lapina will discuss the attempts, found in the program of paintings in France, to represent the conquest of Sicily by Charles of Anjou as a true crusade, rather than as a struggle against a rival dynasty. The designer of the program achieved this by including a reminder of Charles’s capture of the Muslim colony of Lucera in Southern Italy, which had tangential relevance to the conquest of Sicily. Uri Shachar will discuss Jewish texts concerning the massacres of the Jews by the crusaders in 1096 that aimed to sacralize the urban space of the affected cities by drawing upon the images of Temple Mount. This attempt at sacralization was polemical in nature and intended to counter similar ones made by the Christians.   

The session does not intend to minimize the violence of encounters between confessional communities, but to attain a more holistic vision by appreciating the flexibility of the notion of “religion” and the many meanings that it could take and by taking into account factors that had little to do with religion, but that frequently shaped the course of events.

See more of: AHA Sessions