Reason, faith and progress
A disputed Enlightenment
in The Debate on the Crusades
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The origins and impact of chivalry became a matter of controversy when handled by historians and social commentators trying to identify progress from post-classical barbarism to modern enlightenment. Crusade heroes featured prominently in nostalgic accounts which lauded chivalry's supposed virtues of modesty, loyalty, generosity, humility and faith. While accepting the general theme of crusading fanaticism, Voltaire weaves into his disapproval in a discussion of liberty as well as reason. Edward Gibbon's sonorous judgements on the crusades have become something of a historical and literary cliché. Fashionable and influential eighteenth-century intellectuals tended to use the crusade not as a historical study in its own right, but as a tool in conceptual arguments about religion and the progress of civilisation or manners. Maurist monks, who regarded historical scholarship as integral to their religious vocation, gathered an extraordinarily rich library and essayed a series of the grandest scholarly projects.


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