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Crusading History Provides Focus for Lecture

50th Anniversary Lecture at the University of Leicester on 21 April

Views of Crusading History, from Sir Walter Scott to Osama bin Laden, are to be presented at a 50th Anniversary lecture at the University of Leicester.

The UK’s most distinguished historian of the Crusades, Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, will explain how views of Crusading have developed over time from the early 19th century to the present day.

Professor Norman Housley, of the School of Historical Studies at the University of Leicester, said: “Riley-Smith will demonstrate that ‘western’ and Islamic perceptions of Crusading have evolved in very different ways.

“In Europe and North America the major shaping factors have been cultural ones. It has long been clear that Crusading was rooted in religious beliefs and attitudes that have disappeared for ever from European society. This break in continuity has given commentators the freedom to take up radically different positions. So the Crusades have been subjected both to romanticising idealism, of which Scott is a classic example, and to fascinated horror at what is seen as the bloody misapplication of religious convictions.

“The Islamic perception is much more contemporary in its focus. Picking up on crusading metaphors and analogies that were deployed by some European imperialists in the late-19th century, Islamic scholars and politicians have argued that recent interactions between Christianity and Islam are a continuation of the medieval struggle for possession of Jerusalem.”

Since 9/11 terrorists have constantly referred to their western enemies as ‘the new Crusaders’. Riley-Smith has argued that it is misguided to dismiss such terms as simply rhetoric. They reflect a deeply-rooted perception of what took place in the 12th-13th centuries, and what has happened since, in relations between the two faiths.

Jonathan Riley-Smith is Emeritus Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University, and before that he taught at Royal Holloway University of London and St Andrews. He is the author of numerous books about the Crusades.

The lecture: Perceptions of Crusading History from Sir Walter Scott to Osama bin Laden takes place on Monday 21 April at 5.30pm in Ken Edwards Lecture Theatre 1.

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