The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade

Overview

The Great and Holy War offers the first look at how religion created and prolonged the First World War. At the one-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the war, historian Philip Jenkins reveals the powerful religious dimensions of this modern-day crusade, a period that marked a traumatic crisis for Western civilization, with effects that echoed throughout the rest of the twentieth century.

The war was fought by the world's leading Christian nations, who presented the ...

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The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade

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Overview

The Great and Holy War offers the first look at how religion created and prolonged the First World War. At the one-hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the war, historian Philip Jenkins reveals the powerful religious dimensions of this modern-day crusade, a period that marked a traumatic crisis for Western civilization, with effects that echoed throughout the rest of the twentieth century.

The war was fought by the world's leading Christian nations, who presented the conflict as a holy war. Thanks to the emergence of modern media, a steady stream of patriotic and militaristic rhetoric was given to an unprecedented audience, using language that spoke of holy war and crusade, of apocalypse and Armageddon. But this rhetoric was not mere state propaganda. Jenkins reveals how the widespread belief in angels and apparitions, visions and the supernatural was a driving force throughout the war and shaped all three of the major religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—paving the way for modern views of religion and violence. The disappointed hopes and moral compromises that followed the war also shaped the political climate of the rest of the century, giving rise to such phenomena as Nazism, totalitarianism, and communism.

Connecting numerous remarkable incidents and characters—from Karl Barth to Carl Jung, the Christmas Truce to the Armenian Genocide—Jenkins creates a powerful and persuasive narrative that brings together global politics, history, and spiritual crisis as never before and shows how religion informed and motivated circumstances on all sides of the war.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
04/15/2014
World War I marked a profound shift in the shape of religion's role in the world, argues Jenkins (history, Baylor Univ.; The Next Christendom). His title is misleading: while some voices proclaimed the war a righteous cause, the author's main concern is to demonstrate just how tectonic a shift there was in the nature of religion during the war and afterward. With Jenkins's characteristic global sweep (from the European theater to the Ottoman Near East to African and Asian colonies), he paints in broad strokes how the trauma of the war inflicted mortal blows to faith in beneficent progress, the naturalness of a patriotic-religious synthesis, and Euro-Christian moral superiority. VERDICT Jenkins makes a compelling case for expansive shifts in the place of religion from pre- to postwar.—Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., CrystalLake, IL
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-05
A painstaking, densely layered study of the many slippery uses of religion in the making of war. Holy war rhetoric was not new to World War I, having been used to rousing effect during the Crusades. As Jenkins (History and Religious Studies/Baylor Univ.; Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses, 2011, etc.) delineates, the "highly material conflict" of 1914 and the messianic zeal undertaken by Germany and Russia especially rendered this a uniquely disastrous and foreboding phenomenon. Not only did the powerful states of the czar and kaiser glorify in the language of divine providence in justifying their aggression, but the church leaders in the West also employed violent language involving Christian duty and honor to save Christian civilization from "God's enemies," the barbaric Germans. World War I erupted during a time when religious themes still resonated powerfully with rural and peasant societies, and medieval imagery of battling knights and angels was used frequently in propaganda. For Protestant Germany, the war heralded God's special mission for the nation. Yet rumors of German atrocities unleashed tales of Christ-like suffering. Spiritual calls to sacrifice and martyrdom underpinned the militarism and nationalism of the embroiled nations, and as the grisly slaughter grew, shocking people with the numbers of dead—the French lost 27,000 men on Aug. 22, 1914, alone at the Battle of the Frontiers—so did the use of the language of the apocalypse. Superstition among soldiers was common, as were sightings of angels and the walking dead on the battlefields. While the war was largely a Christian struggle, the Ottoman Empire jumped in with stirring calls to sacrifice one's life "for the safety of the faith." Indeed, as Jenkins carefully portrays, the war changed everything, from the collapse of the old order to the compromising and weakening of world faiths. A work of intensely nuanced research.
starred review Booklist
“An astounding chronicle of intense piety inciting acts of terrible carnage.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062105097
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/29/2014
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 118,088
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Jenkins, the author of The Lost History of Christianity, Jesus Wars, and The Next Christendom, is the Distinguished Professor of History and a member of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He has published articles and op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal, New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe and has been a guest on top national radio shows across the country. He divides his time between Pennsylvania and Texas.

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