Reimagined History: Trauma as Provocation for the First Crusade
Rowan, Spencer Ford
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CitationRowan, Spencer Ford. 2019. Reimagined History: Trauma as Provocation for the First Crusade. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThe violence of the Crusades was instigated in part by provocative statements made by political and religious leaders who tapped into shared memories of traumatic warfare between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. The different recollections of wrongdoing by these large, religious, ethnic groups were fuel for renewing violence. As
each of these faith traditions evolved, they brought with them stories of oppression and violence, often contained in holy scripture. Jews heard ancient accounts of enslavement and warfare with other tribes. Christians were oppressed for three centuries by Romans and blamed Jews for the killing of Jesus. Muslims quarreled among themselves in Sunni and Shia warfare—and in armed conflict with Christians. The retelling of ancient stories often resulted in what some psychologists describe as the transmission of trauma across generations.
The hypothesis of this thesis is that psychological insights about trauma can illumine historical accounts of religious violence. A psychological perspective does not refute the findings of historians, but it may help understand how thousands of Christians were persuaded to leave their homes and travel more than a thousand miles to battle with Muslims in the Holy Land. Not only does psychology shed light on past events, it can provide lessons from violent episodes like the Crusades that may help prevent trauma from triggering conflicts in the future.
The First Crusade was launched after exaggerated claims were made that Roman Catholics had been persecuted by Muslims in the Holy Land and mistreated by Eastern Orthodox Christians. The vastly different large-group identities made it possible for differing religious traditions to view “the other” as an enemy, even after they had lived peacefully together for many years. The perceived trauma of past encounters became fuel for violence—and a phenomenon that has continued long after the Crusades ended.
Psychological insights increase our understanding of how those who feel their ancestors (and themselves) have been victims can themselves become victimizers and oppressors. Lessons from past violence can inform contemporary efforts at peacemaking and interfaith cooperation.
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