The Crusades loom large in contemporary popular consciousness. However, our public understanding has largely been informed from a western perspective, despite the fact that there is a rich textual tradition recording its history in Muslim sources. Paul M. Cobb
, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, remedies this problem in The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades
(Oxford University Press, 2014) by presenting the fullest and most readable account of the Crusades relying on Islamic sources. Cobb expands the geographical and chronological boundaries of the Crusades by placing traditional conflicts within Muslim accounts of Frankish aggression. In general, medieval Muslims were not overly concerned with Europe and ongoing relationships between Christians and Muslims only really existed in the Mediterranean context. European expansion into Muslim lands throughout the Middle Ages marked a different phase of encounter,but these incursions were not always clearly demarcated by religious boundaries. Cobb illustrates the often competing logic behind political alliances, military aggression and intervention, or discursive justification. The Race for Paradise
does a wonderful job of presenting the narrative in a new light and dissolving many of the assumptions about pre-modern conflicts that have been produced by one-sided accounts of the Crusades. In our conversation we discussed the Frankish conquests, the significance of Jerusalem, Mediterranean Muslims communities, Arabic sources, notions of jihad, Frankish rule in the Levant, Saladin and his political heirs, thinking about the Crusades today, and making an audio book.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. His research and teaching interests include Theory and Methodology in the Study of Religion, Islamic Studies, Chinese Religions, Human Rights, and Media Studies. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at email@example.com.