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

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

by Philip Jenkins

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The Hidden Religious Motivations That Sparked World War I and How That Catastrophe Reshaped Religion for the Next Century

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The Hidden Religious Motivations That Sparked World War I and How That Catastrophe Reshaped Religion for the Next Century

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
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
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.
Anglican and Episcopal History
“As thoroughly researched as it is readable. Even scholars well versed in the field will learn much from this work. Possessing a superior grasp of the political and military history, the author…presents a perceptive and engaging view of the war …[Jenkins] sets a high standard.”
starred review Booklist
“An astounding chronicle of intense piety inciting acts of terrible carnage.”
Christianity Today
“This sweeping, carefully researched book makes sense of a global conflict... [that] redrew the global map and reshaped all the major faiths involved.”
“If you care about religious diversity and the role of faith in global war and peace—then you must get a copy of The Great and Holy War. [A] unique and important look at how the First World War reshaped global conflicts we are still wrestling with a century later.”
Christian Century
“Jenkins’ vividly written synthesis [on World War I] belongs at the top of reading lists on the conflict.”
The Catholic World Report
“In his masterful book Jenkins…firmly establishes that WWI did not just reshape the political landscape, but it created the religious world we exist in today.”

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

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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 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.

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