University of Leicester eBulletin

'Holy Wars' - A New Perspective

October 2002
No 240

Two new publications that look at 'Wars of Religion'  

Rhetoric used to describe military operations in Afghanistan as a ‘Crusade’ involve a fundamental misunderstanding of the past, new research by a University of Leicester academic concludes.

US President George Bush alluded to the operations as a Crusade and Osama bin Laden characterised operations as a “New Crusade” - “the new Jewish and Christian crusader campaign that is led by the Chief Crusader Bush under the banner of the Cross”.

In his new study, The Crusaders (Tempus Publishing Ltd), Professor Norman Housley of the University’s School of Historical Studies contributes to the debate about Western-Islamic relations, using a group of key texts from the period of the Crusades to build up a composite picture of Crusader psychology and motivations

Housley concludes that the world of the real Crusaders was so different from the one we live in today that any attempt to explain current tensions in crusading terms involves a fundamental misunderstanding of the past.

But if a revival of the Crusades is inconceivable, it is remarkable how long many of the habits of thought and behaviour which were associated with the original Crusades persisted in European history.

Norman Housley’s second book, Religious Warfare in Europe, 1400-1536 (Oxford University Press), is a study of a range of wars whose protagonists held the firm conviction that they were fighting for God’s cause.

The conflicts studied include wars between states, social revolts, disputes over religious doctrine, and hostilities at frontiers where there existed a religious divide. Warfare in this period is often depicted as largely emptied of religious content. Housley argues that many groups believed that they held God’s mandate to wage war, and that Holy War continued to play a large role in the thinking of leaders, combatants and apologists alike.

The Crusaders (Tempus Publishing Ltd) and Religious Warfare in Europe, 1400-1536 (Oxford University Press) by Professor Norman Housley are both published this autumn.  

NOTE TO EDITORS:   Further details are available from Professor Norman Housley, University of Leicester School of Historical Studies, telephone 0116 252 2801, facsimile 0116 252 3986, email

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