Reply To: Rodney Stark's God's Battalions

Jason Jewell

Benson, to put the Stark recommendation in context, let me share a personal anecdote. In 15 years of teaching at the university level, the most common reaction I get from people when I suggest that Western Civilization has on the whole been a good thing is this: “But what about the Crusades?” The popular (mis)understanding of this episode is so lopsided that I’ve come to think reading almost anything taking the opposing viewpoint is a healthy thing.

My recommending Stark’s book is not a blanket endorsement of his scholarship or his conclusions, but rather an attempt to bring some balance to the discussion, and this book is most easily accessible work that does that. The hostile reviewer you link does concede that Stark provides useful correctives to distortions promulgated by Runciman and others. His criticism of “he’s not saying anything new here” doesn’t seem to wash since Stark is obviously writing on a popular level for readers who probably will never encounter the scholars the reviewer cites. Moreover, his criticism is mostly confined to the first third of the book; he thinks the later chapters are much better.

FWIW, my understanding is that Stark is some sort of theist but not actually a Christian.

Just a few thoughts off the top of my head. I hope this helps.