John S. Ott
Portland State University
Fall 2007

HST 399/SPST: Holy War in the Middle Ages: Christian and Muslim Perspectives
(M,W  2:00-3:50, CH 158)

Office: CH 441-M
Office hours: By appt. only
Phone: 503.725.3013  /  E-mail:

Course overview

This course examines multiple perspectives on the phenomenon of holy war (and its primary medieval manifestations of crusade and jihad), as well as the related subject areas of pilgrimage, mission, travel, and cross-cultural interaction in Europe and the Mediterranean between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries C.E.  In addition to reading numerous first-hand accounts of contemporaries’ experiences on the frontiers of Christendom, our primary objective will be to assess, from a variety of intellectual perspectives, how the dominant Christian culture of western Europe perceived and interacted with non-Christian communities along its periphery.  Through a combination of lectures and a wide range of secondary critical, we will analyze, among other things: how historians have grappled with defining holy war, crusade, and jihad; the context and dynamics of crusdae and jihad; life in medieval frontier societies, the role of the witness in foreign cultures, the ritual and communal aspects of pilgrimage; and the ways in which Latin, Greek, and Muslim thinkers intellectually accommodated otherness.  Our course objectives will be: (1) to gain a reasonably specific contextual knowledge of the historical phenomena treated in class; (2) to develop skills in primary and secondary source criticism and applying theory to primary sources; (3) to hone formal writing and critical thinking skills; (4) to consider the way in which cultural, religious, and political ideologies shape our understanding of historical events.

Course materials

The following materials are required:


Students will be evaluated according to the following criteria.  Guidelines are posted below.

Plagiarism policy

Plagiarism, intentional or unintentional, is an intolerable infraction in any setting where ideas are exchanged and discussed.  I routinely uncover plagiarized papers each year.  Detecting plagiarism is extremely easy.  Papers that can be shown to have been plagiarized will automatically receive an “F” grade.  Students will be required to resubmit their papers, and will be deducted in their grade an amount appropriate to the late paper policy given in the assignment guidelines.  Repeated or particularly egregious offenses may be the cause for additional action.  Remember, ignorance is no excuse.  Please note that I consider work you’ve submitted for other classes to be unacceptable and, if discovered, will be handled as plagiarized papers.  If you are unsure what constitutes plagiarism, you may test yourself at this web site maintained by Indiana University:

E-mail policy

E-mail is a superb tool by which students may communicate with the course instructor about questions concerning the course material, content, and assignments.  It is especially useful for providing feedback to student ideas and for commenting on student theses or paper topics.  But please bear in mind the following:


I. Christian Holy War: Preconditions, Perspectives, and Experience
Mon., September 24 – Introduction to course content and themes

Lecture: The real and enduring relevance of holy war

Wed., September 26 – Intellectual preconditions for Christian idea of Just War

Lecture: Toward Rationalization of Just War in early Christian thought

Mon., October 1 – The social-cultural background I: Pilgrimage

Lecture: Pilgrimage and its meanings in medieval society

Wed., October 3 – The social-cultural background II: the Peace and Truce of God

Lecture: “Feudal” France and the genesis of the Christian knight

Mon., October 8 – Coalescence: Clermont and Urban II
Lecture: Clermont 1095 in context
Wed., October 10 - The experience of crusading: the First Crusade(s), 1095-1131
Lecture: The First Crusade

Mon., October 15 - Crusading and hatred of Jews
Lecture: The crusades’ place in the growth of antijudaism and antisemitism


II. Muslim Holy War: Preconditions, Perspectives, and Experience
Wed., October 17 – Intellectual preconditions for a Muslim conception of Holy War

Mon., October 22 – Cultural and historical preconditions for a Muslim conception of Holy War
Lecture: Preconditions and early development of the Muslim idea of holy war

Wed., October 24 – Reactions to the First Crusade: the Byzantine World

Mon., October 29 – Reactions to the First Crusade: the Muslim World
    Lecture: Aftermath of the first crusade: the meaning of Edessa (1144) for Muslims and Christians

Wed., October 31 –  Life in the Crusader States: Experience and Polemic

  • Selections #23-26, 29-32 from The Crusades: A Reader, pp. 83-99, 108-124;
  • Benjamin Z. Kedar, “The Subjected Muslims of the Frankish Levant,” in The Crusades, ed. T. F. Madden, pp. 235-264;
  • Wadi Z. Haddad, “The Crusaders through Muslim Eyes,” The Muslim World 58:3-4 (July-October 1983), 234-52 (E-Reserve)
Lecture: The possibilities and limits for cultural exchange in the crusaders states

Mon., November 5 –  The Tide Turns: Hattin and the Third Crusade

  • Selections #41-45, 54-56 from The Crusades: A Reader, pp. 159-177, 181-183, 211-217, 221-225;
  • Francesco Gabrieli, trans., Arab Historians of the Crusades, pp. 87-113 (on Saladin), 146-75 (on the Muslim reconquest of Jerusalem) (See instructor)
Lecture: Richard and Saladin

Wed., November 7 - The Crusades on Film

Movie: Kingdom of Heaven (Ridley Scott, 2005)


Wed., November 14 – The devolution of holy war and the decline of crusading
Lecture: The proliferation of crusades

III.  Holy War Considered: Approaches to Understanding the Medieval Crusade
Mon., November 19 – New approaches, added perspectives:
Wed., November 21 - Linkage: Crusade and Conversion

Mon., November 26 - The beginnings of European colonization and the creation of Europe

Wed., November 28 - The impact of the crusades on Europe and the Muslim World