Course Detail


Medieval Literature

ENG 342B Crusades, Violence, and Literature


This course examines the medieval literary representations of religious violence. We will focus primarily on narrative texts depicting the complex, multi-stage military encounters in the Levant and Asia Minor from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, known collectively as the Crusades. The famous, infamous, and fictionalized figures at the center of these conflicts—Godfrey of Bouillon, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Saladin, and Bevis of Hampton—will occupy much of our attention. We will also encounter several texts that read Crusades patterns of religious violence into other contexts: the “Matter of Britain” material (Arthurian narratives) and the “Matter of France” material (Carolingian narratives) primarily but also a provocative medieval retelling of the life of Buddha in which Buddha becomes a Christian Crusader king. We will also read Jewish and Islamic accounts of Crusades violence and attempt to make sense of the vast range of perspectives on this international conflict. Throughout the course, we will pursue such questions as: How do medieval Christians (or medieval Muslims or Jews) depict their ideological and military opponents? What justifications—assumed or articulated—are offered in support of violent actions? What condemnations are leveled against violent enemies? Where are the boundaries between the Christian and the (Jewish or Muslim) other? Between heretic and infidel? Between fellow citizen and enemy? Are these boundaries permeable? If so, to what extent? The Crusades raise questions like these in medieval readers and writers. Consequently, the Crusades narratives become fascinating windows into the culture and worldview of the Middle Ages as well as useful tools with which to think about the rhetoric, ideology, and iconography of geopolitical tensions in our own time.

(Offered Spring 2016.)


First-year students require permission of the instructor.