Synopses & Reviews
The long, shared history of Christianity and Islam began, shortly after Islam emerged in the early seventh century A.D., with a question: Who would inherit the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean? Sprung from the same source--Abraham and the Revelation given to the Jews--the two faiths played out over the course of the next millennium what historian Stephen O'Shea calls "a sibling rivalry writ very large." Their cataclysmic clashes on the battlefield were balanced by long periods of co-existence and mutual enrichment, and by the end of the sixteenth century the religious boundaries of the modern world were drawn.
In Sea of Faith, O'Shea chronicles both the meeting of minds and the collisions of armies that marked the interaction of Cross and Crescent in the Middle Ages--the better to understand their apparently intractable conflict today. For all the great and everlasting moments of cultural interchange and tolerance--in Cordoba, Palermo, Constantinople--the ultimate "geography of belief " was decided on the battlefield. O'Shea vividly recounts seven pivotal battles between the forces of Christianity and Islam that shaped the Mediterranean world--from the loss of the Christian Middle East to the Muslims at Yarmuk (Turkey) in 636 to the stemming of the seemingly unstoppable Ottoman tide at Malta in 1565. In between, the battles raged round the Mediterranean, from Poitiers in France and Hattin in the Holy Land during the height of the Crusades, to the famed contest for Constantinople in 1453 that signaled the end of Byzantium. As much as the armies were motivated by belief, their exploits were inspired by leaders such as Charles Martel, Saladin, and Mehmet II, whose stirring feats were sometimes accompanied by unexpected changes of heart.
"In this elegant, fast-paced, and judicious cultural and religious history, journalist O'Shea, author of The Perfect Heresy, provides a remarkable glimpse into the origins of the conflicts between Christians and Muslims as well as their once peaceful coexistence. He focuses on seven military battles Yarmuk A.D. 636), Poitiers (732), Manzikert (1071), Hattin (1187), Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), Constantinople (1453) and Malta (1565) between Christians and Muslims as the high-water marks of their attempts to shape the Mediterranean ('sea of faith') world of the Middle Ages. O'Shea vividly captures and recreates not only the enmity between the two religions but also the sectarian rivalries and political intrigues within each religion. Yet the relationship between Christianity and Islam was marked not only by bloody Crusades and wars of conquest. As O'Shea so eloquently points out, Christians and Muslims also experienced long periods of rapprochement, signaled by the long peace at Crdoba in the early Middle Ages and in the intellectual and social flourishing at Toledo and Palermo in the 11th century. O'Shea's marvelous accomplishment offers an unparalleled glimpse of the struggles of each religion to establish dominance in the medieval world as well as at the strategies for living together that the religions enacted as they shared the same territory. (June) " Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Praise for Sea of Faith:
"An absorbing, crisply written chronicle...If you're expecting an argument on behalf of peaceful coexistence or, alternatively, a call to alarm on the order of Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order," the colorful, if often gruesome, story that O'Shea narrates with considerable panache offers no easy answers to our current predicament."--Los Angeles Times
"Admirably evenhanded."--Dallas Morning News
"A tour de force...a beautiful, necessary book, punctuated with passages of dark, luminous, symbolic power. If, as it appears, we have entered a new 'dark ages,' only by facing the worst about what seems to offer hope to believers can we forge new hopes--tolerant places where convivencia, as embodied in this superb book, flourishes once again."--Christian Science Monitor
"A gripping account of Christianity and Islam's first tortured millennium of combat and coexistence. Vivid vocabulary, tasteful touches of humor and a traveler's-eye view of the Mediterranean enrich the history. An engaging glimpse into the events that shaped the Mediterranean basin as we know it today."--Kirkus Reviews
"O'Shea's marvelous accomplishment offers an unparalleled glimpse of the struggles of each religion to establish dominance in the medieval world as well as of the strategies for living together that the religions enacted as they shared the same territory."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
From the sixth through the sixteenth centuries, the faiths of Islam and Christianity contended for primacy in the Mediterranean world. At times acrimonious, at other times harmonious, the encounter between the two creeds in the Middle Ages provides a backdrop to much of what informs, and misinforms, public opinion on present-day conflicts. Recounting seven major battles encircling the Mediterranean--Yarmuk, Poitiers, Manzikert, Hattin, Las Navas de Tolosa, Constantinople, and Malta--Stephen O'Shea shines vital new light on the distant past while offering invaluable perspective on the two faiths' ongoing contest for spiritual and political primacy.
About the Author
STEPHEN O'SHEA: Toronto-born author and journalist Stephen O'Shea moved to France in the early 1980s. There, he took up journalism, shortly after completing postgraduate degrees in politics at the Université de Paris 1 (Pantheon-Sorbonne) and the prestigious Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris.
Stephen O'Shea currently lives with his wife, Jill Pearlman, and two daughters in Providence, Rhode Island.