Kevin Madigan ’82 “Crusades and Crusaders” Lecture

By Allyson Noenickx, Chief News Editor

On Thursday, March 23, Kevin Madigan ’82 presented a lecture, “Crusades and Crusaders: A History and Historiography.” The talk was sponsored by the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture at Holy Cross and took place in Rehm Library where it was well attended by students, faculty, and alumni.

Madigan’s lecture was one of the Deitchman Family Lectures on Religion and Modernity and served as the first of two events sponsored by the McFarland Center this spring that is devoted to helping the community think about the Crusader moniker and the meaning behind our choices. According to the McFarland Center website, “Our teams, in 1925, and our newspaper, in 1955, became Crusaders after a process of revisiting the names they used to identify themselves, rejecting the Indian motifs that had predominated, calling these ‘outdated’ and choosing ‘Crusaders’ because the name appealed to ‘knightly valor.’ Today, the connotation of Crusaders is much more conflicted. If we want to call ourselves Crusaders, what do we need to know about the history and historiography of the Crusades? And how is the name tied up with our notions of identity, memory, meaning, and belonging?”

Madigan is Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School. He specializes in Medieval Christian history and is author of a new textbook on the medieval church, entitled Medieval Christianity: A New History. Madigan offered a historical perspective on what the Crusades were and reflected on the historiography of the Crusades from the late 19th century onward. The lecture in part served as an effort to lay a historical context for future discussions of the Holy Cross moniker.

Madigan began by providing a detailed history of the Crusades, focusing primarily on the first, which lasted from 1095-1099. Madigan tried to shed light on how Crusaders might have viewed their missions and themselves as pilgrims. “Without appreciating the genuine religious motivations of the Crusaders, we simply cannot understand the Crusades as Medieval Christians perceived them; nor for that matter can we understand why the students of the College of the Holy Cross in the first half of the 20th century wished to associate themselves with the image of the Crusaders,” said Madigan.

Madigan focused his analysis of the Crusades’ historiography on the late 19th and early 20th centuries to provide context for how Crusaders were perceived when the College first adopted the moniker. “Under the influence of nationalism and Romanticism, sympathetic attitude towards the Crusades and the Middle Ages in general emerged in the 18th and 19th century, especially with those disaffected by secularization and other elements of modernity. The Crusaders were depicted favorably in virtually all forms of Western culture,” said Madigan.

Madigan also spoke to Islamic historiography and noted how for much of history the Crusades were not considered at all. “The Crusades were almost unknown in the Muslim world until the 18th century,” said Madigan. “Given how often the term ‘Crusader’ is used as a term of hostility in political discourse today, it’s startling to realize that the Crusades were not even regarded as worthy of attention for most of the second millennium. When considered at all they were usually regarded as insignificant and fruitless attempts to impede the ineluctable expansion of Islam.”  

“The College first adopted the moniker Crusader when this positive view still prevailed; even if criticisms were expressed ideologically in the Catholic world, they had little sympathy. The historiography of the Crusades thus is essential in helping us to determine why the Jesuit founders of the College wanted to associate the students with the image of the Crusader,” said Madigan.

In terms of how a symbol like the Crusader could go from being a seemingly innocuous term to such a fraught one today, Madigan noted, “Historical and political events compel people to reach back into their unknown history, or history that’s not very well known, and retrieve certain symbols and events sometimes to reconfigure them.”

However, Madigan did not suggest how the College should proceed moving forward, but rather vouched for the importance of understanding the history and historiography behind the Crusades. “It’s not for me to say, or has it been any part of my intention to say or to imply whether the College ought to retain or relinquish its historic moniker. My intention, rather, has nowhere better been expressed than by the great German theologian Ernst Troeltsch. “‘In normative immoral matters,’ Troeltsch once insisted, ‘historians ought not to have the last word, but it may be helpful if they are permitted the first.’ If my first, strictly historical remarks are of any use to the College’s forthcoming discovenance I will be quite grateful,” said Madigan.

The McFarland Center will be sponsoring a second event, “Calling Ourselves Crusaders: What’s in a Name?” to encourage continued discussion on the topic of Crusaders. On Tuesday, April 11 at 4:30 PM in Rehm Library, panelists selected from members of the faculty will draw from their respective fields to help us think about questions of identity, meaning, memory, belonging, and history wrapped up in the choice of the Holy Cross moniker.

Madigan’s lecture can be viewed on the McFarland Center’s page of the Holy Cross website and on YouTube.


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