Transcript: Stephen O'Shea on his book "Sea of Faith" | Jun 24, 2006

Stephen O’Shea stands behind a lectern at a bookstore. He’s in his mid-fifties, with long wavy white hair in a low ponytail. He wears a black suit and a white shirt.

A slate reads "University of Toronto Book Store. www.uoftbookstore.com"

Stephen says "HISTORY,"
JAMES JOYCE HAS HIS CHARACTER
STEPHEN DEDALUS SAY, "HISTORY
IS A NIGHTMARE FROM WHICH I AM
TRYING TO AWAKE."
I SUPPOSE I
SHOULD ENDORSE THAT IRISH WAY
OF LOOKING AT THINGS, GIVEN MY
LAST NAME, BUT I'D LIKE TO
THINK THAT HISTORY IS ALSO A
DREAM THAT MUST BE INTERPRETED.
LEARNING HISTORY, OR LOOKING AT
HISTORY IN NEW WAYS, IS NOT
LEARNING WHO OR WHAT TO HATE.
I BELIEVE IN
ITS MOST INTIMATE SELF, IT'S
LEARNING ABOUT YOURSELF.

A caption reads "Stephen O’Shea. Author of Sea of Faith."

Stephen says SO WHERE DOES THE SEA OF FAITH
FIT INTO THIS.
HOW DOES A NARRATIVE HISTORY OF
THE MEDITERRANEAN IN THE MIDDLE
AGES HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH
US, IN THE 21st CENTURY?
LET ME ASK A SIMPLER QUESTION.
WHY IS TURKEY MUSLIM, AND SPAIN
CHRISTIAN?
AND WHY ISN'T SICILY STILL A
MUSLIM COUNTRY?
WHAT HAPPENED?
THE MEDITERRANEAN, WE CAN ALL
CONCEDE, IS THE CRADLE OR AT
LEAST THE NURSERY OF A
CIVILISATION, YET IF YOU LOOK
AT IT AS A WHOLE, YOU WILL SEE
THAT THERE IS A CONFESSIONAL
GEOGRAPHY TO IT, A GEOGRAPHY OF
BELIEF THAT INFORMS THE MANY
CULTURES THAT HAVE GROWN UP
ALONG ITS SHORES.
THERE WAS NOTHING INEVITABLE
ABOUT WHO BELIEVES WHAT AND
WHERE.
NO, MUSLIM TURKEY AND CHRISTIAN
SPAIN WERE THE RESULT OF THE
ACTIONS OF MEN, AND IN MANY
INSTANCES, THE ACUTE
CONTINGENCIES OF BATTLE.
IT IS THOSE ACTIONS THAT
THE SEA OF FAITH
RELATES.
SO THE READER IS BROUGHT TO TEN
CRITICAL EPISODES, TEN
WATERSHED MOMENTS, IN A PERIOD
SPANNING 1,000 YEARS.
EPISODES THAT DETERMINE THE
GEOGRAPHY OF BELIEF AROUND THE
SEA AND CONTRIBUTED THE
MARVELLOUS DIVERSITY OF
MEDITERRANEAN IDENTITY.
THE MEDIEVAL MILLENNIUM WAS THE
FORMATIVE PERIOD THAT SHAPED
THE CONTOURS OF THE MODERN AGE.
WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHERE WE
ARE UNTIL WE UNDERSTAND HOW WE
GOT HERE.
HOW DID THE MEDITERRANEAN GO
FROM BEING A CHRISTIAN LAKE IN
THE DYING LIGHT OF ANTIQUITY,
TO A SEA OF DIFFERENT CREEDS
AND CULTURES WHEN SULTAN
SULEIMAN THE MAGNIFICENT WAS
BEING TURNED BACK AT VIENNA AND
AT MALTA.
THAT'S THE STORY, THE LARGE
ONE.
WE ALL KNOW OR HAVE READ
EXCELLENT HISTORIES OF ONE
EPISODE OR ANOTHER.
THE ERA OF THE CRUSADES, FOR
EXAMPLE, THE FALL OF
CONSTANTINOPLE.
BUT I JUDGE THAT AN OVERALL
ACCOUNT OF THE DIFFERENT
HISTORICAL ACTORS AND SOCIETY
THAT BUILT THIS MODERN
CONFESSIONAL GEOGRAPHY WOULD BE
PARTICULARLY USEFUL, ESPECIALLY
NOW, ESPECIALLY TODAY, FOR TWO
REASONS.
ONE, TO UNDERSTAND OR TO GET
SOME REASONABLE PERSPECTIVE ON
WHAT ONE SEES EVERY DAY IN THE
NEWSPAPERS AND ON TV.
OUR TIME IS CRACKLINGLY ALIVE.
LET'S TALK ABOUT ISLAM,
CHRISTIANITY AND THEIR
RELATIONS PAST AND PRESENT.
TO SEE BEYOND WHAT IS SOMETIMES
A THICKET OF MISREPRESENTATION,
WHETHER IT EMERGES FROM A CAVE
IN BORA BORA OR A BRIEFING ROOM
IN THE WHITE HOUSE, IT IS
NECESSARY TO GET A FIRM GRIP ON
THE PAST, SO THAT OTHERS, WITH
DIFFERENT AGENDAS AND MOTIVES,
DON'T DICTATE TO YOU WHAT THAT
PAST, AND THEREFORE, WHAT YOUR
PRESENT IS.
THE SECOND REASON FOR MY
DECISION TO WRITE
THE SEA
OF FAITH,
FLOWS FROM
THE FIRST, BUT IS, IN A SENSE,
A LARGER POINT.
I LIVED IN FRANCE FOR NEARLY 20
YEARS.
I WROTE TWO BOOKS ABOUT THE
INVISIBLE BOUNDARIES CONTAINED
WITHIN THAT COUNTRY.
ONE WAS THE WESTERN FRONT OF
WORLD WAR ONE, THE SCAR THAT
STILL LIES ON THE LAND AS A
REMNANT OF A CULTURAL
CATACLYSM, THE OTHER IN THE UP-
COUNTRY OF LANGEDUC, AMID
RUINED CASTLES AND HIDEAWAYS OF
THE CHRISTIAN HERETICS, WAS THE
ROAD NOT TAKEN BY WESTERN
CHRISTIANITY.
BOTH WERE PHYSICAL AND
IMAGINATIVE BOUNDARIES.
AS FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN, IT
OCCURRED TO ME OVER THE YEARS,
AS I TRAVELLED AROUND IT, THAT
NOT ONLY WAS THERE A
CONFESSIONAL GEOGRAPHY TO THE
SEA, THAT IS, AN INVISIBLE
BOUNDARY THAT WOULD EVENTUALLY
PULL ME TO MY SUBJECT, BUT ALSO
THAT THE SHARED PAST OF ISLAM
AND CHRISTIANITY ON THIS, THE
CENTRE STAGE OF HISTORY, HAD
BEEN TRADITIONALLY PRESENTED IN
A WOEFULLY ONE-SIDED MATTER --
MANNER, EXCUSE ME.
WHY, DURING THE COURSE OF A
STANDARD WESTERN EDUCATION, WAS
THERE SO MUCH TALK ABOUT THE
HAPSBURGS, AND THE BOURBONS,
BUT VERY LITTLE OF THE UMAYYAD,
AND THE AYUBEES?
EVERYONE KNOWS MARCO POLO, BUT
WHAT ABOUT THE INTREPID
MEDIEVAL TRAVELLERS IBN ATTUTSA
AND IBN JUBER?
WE RIGHTLY CELEBRATE THE
SCHOLASTICS AND THE
RENAISSANCE, YET HEAR ALMOST
NOTHING OF THE TRANSLATORS OF
TOLEDO AND THE MUSLIM
SCIENTISTS OF PALERMO.
IF ANYTHING, IN SOME HISTORIES
OF THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD, THE
GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF
ISLAMIC CIVILISATION,
ACCOMPLISHMENTS THAT SPREAD TO
THE WEST, AND INFLUENCED ITS
DEVELOPMENT, ARE MERE FODDER
FOR FOOTNOTES AND THE MEDIEVAL
MUSLIM IS REFLEXIVELY DISMISSED
AS THE SINISTER SARACEN, AS IF
THAT WAS ALL THERE WAS TO IT.
IN SHORT, IT OCCURRED TO ME
THAT THERE HAD BEEN A CULTURAL
TUNNEL VISION AT WORK, THAT IS,
RELATING ONLY THOSE HISTORIES
THAT REDOUND TO THE BENEFIT OF
WHICHEVER SOCIETY HAPPENS TO BE
SETTING THE CURRICULUM.
BUT I KNEW, AND OF COURSE MANY
OF YOU KNOW, THANKS TO
FAMILIARITY WITH THE EFFORTS OF
SCHOLARS AND TRANSLATORS OF THE
PAST FEW GENERATIONS, THAT A
FULLER PICTURE OF OUR COMMON
MEDITERRANEAN HERITAGE CAN NOW
BE PRESENTED.
FROM THIS
PERSPECTIVE, LIKE THE ONE I
PORTRAY IN THE INTRODUCTION TO
THE BOOK, WHERE WE VISIT THE
MESQUITA, THE CATHEDRAL TURNED-
EXCUSE ME, THE MOSQUE TURNED
CATHEDRAL, OF CORDOBA, AND THEN
THE AYA SOFIA, THE CATHEDRAL,
TURNED MOSQUE, TURNED MUSEUM OF
ISTANBUL, WE SEE THAT ISLAM AND
CHRISTIANITY ARE COMPLIMENTARY,
ARE PALIMPSESTS.
SO THE BOOK
EVOKES THIS SHARED PAST, THE
MOMENTS OF CONFLICT AND
COMPLICITY, COMING TOGETHER, TO
SHOW HOW, BY THE 16th CENTURY,
THE ERA OF THE TRICKSTER
TRAVELLER, THE CONTOURS OF THE
MODERN CONFESSIONAL WORLD CAME
INTO BEING.
BRIEFLY THEN, I START AT THE
CANYON OF THE RIVER YARMUK,
NEAR THE GOLAN HEIGHTS, WHERE
PRESENT DAY SYRIA, JORDAN AND
ISRAEL MEET, AND WHERE, IN THE
YEAR 636, THE FORCES OF ARABIAN
ISLAM THEN A FLEDGLING EMPIRE,
MET AND DEFEATED THE
BYZANTINES.
THIS MOST MOMENTOUS CLASH SET
INTO MOTION EVENTS, NO, EXCUSE
ME, THIS CLASH TOOK PLACE A
MERE FOUR YEARS AFTER THE DEATH
OF THE PROPHET.
IT WAS AN ENORMOUSLY IMPORTANT
EVENT FOR THE CONFESSIONAL
HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE EAST, AND
INDEED FOR THE WORLD, YET FOR
ALL THAT, YARMUK, IS NOT
EXACTLY A HOUSEHOLD WORD.
THE ONLY TIME WESTERNERS HEAR
OF YARMUK, THE ONLY TIME WE
COME ACROSS IT, IS IN THE
HORRIFIC REPORTS OF THE CHARNEL
HOUSE AT YARMUK HOSPITAL IN
PRESENT DAY BAGHDAD.
SO THIS -- I THOUGHT THAT THIS
BATTLE AND THIS EVENT DESERVED
TO BE BETTER KNOWN, WHICH IS A
COMMON REFRAIN OF THIS SPEECH.
FROM THERE WE MOVE TO THE
BATTLE OF POITIERS, A CENTURY
LATER, IN DISTANT GAUL, WHERE
CHARLES MARTEL MADE HIS FAMOUS
STAND.
THIS OCCURRED IN 732 OR 733,
100 YEARS AFTER MOHAMMED'S
DEATH.
THAT THE OUTRIDERS OF ARABIAN
ISLAM SHOULD HAVE REACHED ALL
THE WAY OVER INTO THIS LEAFY,
SLEEPY CORNER OF WESTERN GAUL,
IS HARD TO CREDIT, EVEN TODAY.
THE POITIERS STORY DEALS, OF
COURSE, IN A LEAD UP TO
POITIERS, WITH THE GREAT ARAB
CONQUESTS OF CHRISTIAN NORTH
AFRICA, AN AMAZING MARCH THAT
WOULD EVENTUALLY CHANGE THE
CONFESSIONAL COMPLEXION OF THE
SOUTHERN SHORE OF THE
MEDITERRANEAN.
AND AGAIN, IT'S PROTAGONISTS
HAVE BEEN CLOAKED IN OBSCURITY.
WHY ARE WE NOT FAMILIAR, FOR
EXAMPLE, WITH THE FANTASTIC
STORIES TOLD ABOUT KAHINA, THE
SEMI-LEGENDARY JEWISH BER-BER,
PROPHETESS, WARRIOR QUEEN, AND
A REDHEAD, WHO HELD UP THIS
SEEMINGLY UNSTOPPABLE CONQUEST
IN THE MOUNTAINS OF TUNISIA AND
ALGERIA?
IN MY OPINION, KAHINA'S STORY
IS AS INTRIGUING AS JOAN OF
ARC'S.
THEN WE TURN TO PEACE AND EVOKE
THE MAGNIFICENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS
OF UMAYYAD SPAIN, AL ANDALUS,
AND IT'S A MIXTURE OF MUSLIM,
CHRISTIAN, AND JEW, IN CREATING
A PROSPEROUS, CULTIVATED
SOCIETY.
I BELIEVE THAT IGNORING MUSLIM
SPAIN, REDUCING IT TO JUST THE
MOORS' LAST SIGH AT GRENADA IN
1492, WHEN THE MUSLIMS WERE
DRIVEN OUT, IS THE GREATEST
SLIGHT PERPETRATED BY CULTURAL
TUNNEL VISION.
ISLAM WAS IN SPAIN FOR NEARLY
800 YEARS.
THAT IS 3 CENTURIES LONGER THAN
CHRISTIANITY HAS BEEN IN THE
AMERICAS.
MUSLIM SPAIN, THEN, IS OUR
HISTORY, TOO, AND DESERVES,
ONCE AGAIN, TO BE BETTER KNOWN.
AND AL ANDALUS LIVES ON IN
MUSLIM AND JEWISH HISTORICAL
MEMORY TODAY.
IT IS A LEGACY OF WHAT MIGHT BE
CALLED CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM OR
CHRISTIAN CHAUVINISM, THAT SUCH
A SPLENDID CIVILISATION
OCCUPIES SO SMALL A PLACE IN
THE TRADITIONAL PICTURE OF
MEDIEVAL EUROPE.
IN THIS STORY, OF COURSE, IT
OCCUPIES PRIDE OF PLACE, AS AN
EXAMPLE OF CONVIVENCIA, THAT IS
A TIME OF INTELLIGENT
COEXISTENCE AMONG FAITHS.
SO, IN THE BOOK, THE MILLENNIUM
TURNS, AND EVENTS OF 1,000
YEARS AGO OCCUR AROUND THE
MEDITERRANEAN THAT STILL HAVE A
BEARING ON OUR OWN TIME.
IN THE 11th CENTURY, THE SELJUK
TURKS ARRIVED FROM THE EAST,
AND DEFEAT THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE
AT MANZIKERT, IN GREATER
ARMENIA, THEREBY SEALING THE
FATE OF CHRISTIAN ASIA MINOR.
I VISIT THE LONELY STEPPE OF
MANZIKERT ON THE HIGH PLATEAU
NEAR THE BORDER OF TURKEY AND
IRAN, TO SEE HOW, OR IF, THIS
EPICAL BATTLE IS REMEMBERED.
AT THE SAME TIME AS THE
ERUPTION OF THE TURKS INTO
ANATOLIA, ANOTHER GROUP, UH...
AT THE SAME TIME, THE NORMANS
COMES TO THE SHORES OF THE
MEDITERRANEAN.
THEIR CONQUEST OF MUSLIM SICILY
USHERS IN ANOTHER MOMENT OF
CONFESSIONAL COMPLICITY AS THE
NORMAN COURT AT PALERMO BECOMES
AN EXEMPLAR OF LEARNING IN AN
ISLAMISED CHRISTIAN MONARCHY.
ITS ACCOMPLISHMENTS HAVE BEEN
ALMOST TOTALLY FORGOTTEN, BUT
ITS HYBRID ISLAMO-CHRISTIAN
MONUMENTS STILL AMAZE THE
VISITOR TO SICILY.
AND AGAIN, AT NEARLY THE SAME
MOMENT, THE CHRISTIANS OF
CASTILE, CAPTURE THE GREAT
MUSLIM CITY OF TOLEDO, AND
SUBSEQUENTLY THE FLOW OF
TRANSLATIONS AND KNOWLEDGE
STREAM OUT OF THAT CITY TO
IRRIGATE THE AWAKENING
ELECTORAL-- INTELLECTUAL
TRADITIONS OF THE MODERN WEST.
NOT ONLY
DOES ARISTOTLE ARRIVE VIA
BAGHDAD, THEN CORDOVA, THEN
TOLEDO, BUT SO TOO, DO SUCH
TELLTALE ARABIC WORDS AND
NOTIONS AS ALGEBRA, ALGORITHM,
ADMIRAL, CHEQUE, TARIFF,
BAZAAR, AND SO ON.
THESE 11th
AND 12th CENTURIES SHOW THE
MEDIEVAL SEA OF FAITH IN BOTH
WAR AND PEACE, AT ITS MOST
ACTIVE AND ITS MOST TURBULENT,
AND I TAKE THE READER TO THE
VARIOUS SITES OF MEMORY.
AND WHEN I SAY I TAKE THE
READER THERE, I MEAN IT
LITERALLY.
I SHOULD DIGRESS HERE FOR A
MOMENT TO ADMIT THAT I SUFFER
FROM A SUPERSTITION OF SORTS.
I'M ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE, ONE OF
THOSE WRITERS, WHO--
[Clears Throat]
EXCUSE ME, WHO BELIEVES THAT
HISTORY DOESN'T JUST EXIST IN
TIME, IT ALSO RESIDES IN
PLACES.
YES, THE BULK OF HISTORICAL
RESEARCH IS DONE SITTING IN A
LIBRARY, BUT A GREAT DEAL OF
UNDERSTANDING CAN BE GLEANED
FROM GOING TO THE PLACES WHERE
HISTORY UNFOLDED, LOOKING AT
THE LAY OF THE LAND OR THE
COLOUR OF THE SKY, SEEING HOW
AND IF AN EVENT IS
MEMORIALISED, AND EVEN TALKING
TO PEOPLE THERE ABOUT WHAT THEY
THINK HAPPENED, NO MATTER HOW
LONG AGO, NO MATTER HOW
LUDICROUS THEIR STORIES.
I MENTIONED EARLIER, MY
SCRAMBLING DOWN THE OLD
TRENCHES OF WORLD WAR ONE, AND
CLIMBING UP TO THE CASTLES OF
LANGEDUC, IN
THE SEA OF
FAITH,
IT'S NO
DIFFERENT.
THE HISTORICAL NARRATIVES I'VE
JUST MENTIONED, THE CHAP-- THE
EARLIER CHAPTERS JUST-- ARE
PUNCTUATED BY TRAVELS TO THEIR
LOCALES, IN THE PRESENT DAY,
THUS YARMUK IN THE GOLAN,
MANZIKERT, POITIERS AND ALL THE
REST, ARE VISITED FOR HINTS TO
THEIR PAST SIGNIFICANCE.
I FIND THAT VISUAL CUES HELP
BOTH READER AND WRITER TO CROSS
THE CHASM OF TIME.
AND I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE TO
THINK THAT WAY.
CONSIDER WHAT HISTORIAN FERNAND
BRODEL SAID OF THE
MEDITERRANEAN, AND I QUOTE HIM.
"IT IS A SEA THAT RECREATES FOR
US, SCENES FROM THE PAST,
BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO THEM,
LOCATING THEM UNDER A SKY AND
IN A LANDSCAPE THAT WE CAN SEE
WITH OUR OWN EYES, A LANDSCAPE
AND SKY LIKE THOSE OF LONG AGO.
A MOMENT'S CONCENTRATION OR
DAYDREAMING AND THAT PAST COMES
BACK TO LIFE" -- WHICH, OF
COURSE, IS MUSIC TO MY EARS.
AND REALLY NO MORE SO THAN THE
CHAPTER I DEVOTE TO THE
CRUSADES, WHICH, AT LEAST IN
THE POPULAR -- THE CRUSADES,
WHICH, AT LEAST IN THE POPULAR
IMAGINATION, IS THE MAIN EVENT
OF THE MEDIEVAL MILLENNIUM
EVOKED IN
THE SEA OF FAITH.
I TURN TO THE CENTURY LEADING
UP TO THE BATTLE OF HATTIN IN
1187.
SALADIN'S VICTORY OVER THE
CRUSADERS AT HATTIN, SPELLED
THE DOOM OF OUTREMER, OR BEYOND
THE SEA, THE NAME GIVEN TO THE
CHRISTIAN CRUSADING STATES.
NOW I, AND PERHAPS MANY OF YOU,
HAVE READ ACCOUNTS OF THIS
BATTLE.
THE CRUSADERS SPENT THE DAY OF
JULY 3rd, 1187, FOOLISHLY
MARCHING ACROSS THE FURNACE OF
GALILEE.
AFTER A HELLISH NIGHT, CAMPING
OUT IN THE OPEN WITHOUT WATER,
THE NEXT MORNING THEY WERE
FORCED UP A SADDLE SHAPED HILL,
KNOWN AS THE HORNS OF HATTIN.
THEY WERE CRAZED WITH THIRST,
TRIED TO BREAK OUT, WERE
REPULSED, AND FORCED BACK UP
THE HILL, WHERE THEY EVENTUALLY
SURRENDERED EN MASSE.
WELL FINE, I THOUGHT, FROM MY
COMFORTABLE SEAT IN THE
LIBRARY, A SIMPLE CASE OF BEING
MAROONED ON HIGH GROUND,
SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES.
THEN I WENT TO ISRAEL, AND
VISITED THE HORNS OF HATTIN.
THE HILL IS STILL THERE IN THE
COUNTRYSIDE, CLEARLY
RECOGNISABLE, NOW THE PROPERTY
OF A KIBBUTZ.
I CLIMBED THE HILL, LOOKED OUT
OVER THE BATTLEFIELD TO THE
WEST, THEN TURNED EAST.
IT WAS THEN, AND ONLY THEN,
THAT I REALISED THE DEATH BLOW
TO OUTREMER HAD BEEN
STUPENDOUSLY CRUEL THROUGH ITS
VERY LOCATION.
HERE'S HOW I PUT IT.
I'M QUOTING THE BOOK HERE.
"ASIDE FROM THE HORNS, THE HILL
SEEMS UNREMARKABLE UNTIL ONE
TURNS EAST AND REALISES HOW
GEOLOGY WOULD TORMENT THE
CRUSADER.
THE HORNS OF HATTIN STAND ON
THE CUSP OF A GREAT TEAR IN THE
FABRIC OF THE EARTH.
THE EURO-AFRICAN RIFT, WHICH
STRETCHES FROM THE ARANTES
VALLEY AT ANTIOCH, ALL THE WAY
TO MOZAMBIQUE, YAWNS OPEN ON
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HILL,
OFFERING A PERSPECTIVE USUALLY
ASSOCIATED ONLY WITH ROMANTIC
ENGRAVINGS OR COCKPIT WINDOWS.
THE LAND FALLS AWAY, LEAVING
JUST A VIEW OF THE LEBANON TO
THE NORTH, AND TO THE EAST, THE
CLIFFS OF THE GOLAN.
BETWEEN THE GOLAN AND HATTIN,
DOWN STEEPLY PITCHED GRASSY
SLOPES, INTERRUPTED BY ROCKY
CHEVRONS FORMING THEMSELVES
INTO CLIFFS, IS THE FLOOR OF
THE RIFT, HERE OCCUPIED BY THE
FRESH WATER SEA OF GALILEE, AN
EXPANSE OF THE DEEPEST BLUE,
213 METRES BELOW THE LEVELS OF
THE OCEANS.
FROM THE HORNS, HIGH UP ON THE
PARCHED PLATEAU, THE SEA OF
GALILEE IS AN IMMODEST
PRESENCE.
NOT ONLY IS ITS COLOUR AT ODDS
WITH THE SURROUNDING RUST OF
THE LAND, BUT ITS ENORMOUS
INEXHAUSTIBLE VOLUME OF WATER--
VOLUME OF WATER, SEEMS A
CALCULATED INSULT.
WATER,
JEALOUSLY HOARDED ON THE UPLAND
COVERS THE RIFT VALLEY FLOOR,
AND A WHIM OF GEOLOGY ALLOWS
THE BEHOLDER AT HATTIN TO TAKE
IN THE ENTIRE, MADDENING, VAST
EXPANSE IN A SINGLE GLANCE.
THE
CRUSADERS WOULD SUCCUMB TO
THIRST IN SIGHT OF A PROFLIGATE
DISPLAY OF PRECISELY WHAT THEY
NEEDED TO SAVE THEMSELVES.
THE MEN OF OUTREMER WERE
INDEED, BEYOND THE SEA."
SO BRIEFLY THEN, THE CRUSADERS,
OF COURSE, DISAPPEAR FROM
HISTORY, BUT NOT FROM MEMORY,
OF COURSE.
AND THE STORY OF CONFESSIONAL
GEOGRAPHY MOVES ON TO OTHER
PARTS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN
WORLD.
LAS NAVAS DES TOLOSA, THE EL
MAHAD DEFEAT THAT USHERED IN
THE END OF AL ANDALUS, THE MOST
IMPORTANT BATTLE OF THE GREAT
CONQUISTA, IS-- EXCUSE ME, IS
TAKEN UP IN ITS TURN.
THIS SITE, CURIOUSLY ENOUGH, IN
THE MOUNTAINS SEPARATING LA
MANCHA FROM ANDALUSIA, STANDS
CURIOUSLY REMOTE AND UNVISITED,
EVEN THOUGH IT'S SO IMPORTANT,
AND IT'S JUST A STONE'S THROW
FROM THE MAIN EXPRESSWAY
CONNECTING MADRID TO THE SOUTH.
IN THE FINAL CHAPTERS OF THE
BOOK, WE SEE THE RISE OF THE
ITALIAN MERCHANT REPUBLICS,
PISA, VENICE, GENOA, AND THE
CONSEQUENT RISE OF COMMERCIAL
LOGIC, OVER CONFESSIONAL
SCRUPLES, AS WELL AS THE
APPEARANCE OF THE OTTOMANS AND
THE FATEFUL BATTLES IN THE
BALKANS, OF COURSE KOSOVO BEING
THE MOST FAMOUS IF NOT THE MOST
IMPORTANT.
I, OF COURSE, DEAL WITH THE
FINAL DRAMATIC SIEGE OF
CONSTANTINOPLE IN 1453.
CONSTANTINOPLE'S FALL HAS BEEN
TOLD MANY TIMES, BUT I CHOSE TO
SET IT IN THE CONTEXT OF THE
SUBSEQUENT RISE OF THE
ASTONISHINGLY COSMOPOLITAN
KOSTANTINIYYE, IN ITS PLACE.
SULEIMAN'S 16th CENTURY
KOSTANTINIYYE, LATER ISTANBUL,
WAS AS FASCINATING AND
VARIEGATED A PLACE, IF NOT MORE
SO, THAN 10th CENTURY UMAYYAD
CORDOBA.
AND, AS A POST SCRIPT, I END IN
MALTA IN 1565.
THE UNSUCCESSFUL OTTOMAN SIEGE
OF MALTA A TRULY WILD STORY OF
THE DEFENDERS DEFYING
OVERWHELMING ODDS, DESERVES TO
BE KNOWN BETTER, TOO.
THE SEA BATTLE OF LEPANTO, SIX
YEARS LATER, IS THE TRADITIONAL
MARKER OF THE FINAL TUSSLE OVER
CONFESSIONAL GEOGRAPHY BUT I
CHOSE MALTA INSTEAD, NOT
BECAUSE IT IS JUST AS MUCH A
BELLWETHER EVENT, BUT ALSO
BECAUSE PRESENT DAY MALTA IS A
THEATRE OF MEMORY, A PLACE THAT
GLORIES IN ITS PAST AND
GLORIFIES IT.
IT IS THE EPITOME OF HISTORY AS
A PLACE, AND THIS, I THOUGHT A
FITTING CONCLUSION TO WHAT I
SET OUT TO NARRATE.
IT IS ALSO QUITE WONDERFULLY
DEAD IN THE CENTRE OF THE
MEDITERRANEAN.
AFTER THE SIEGE OF MALTA, THE
GEOGRAPHY OF BELIEF HAS BEEN
MORE OR LESS FIXED, AND WE
ENTER THE SUBURBS OF OUR OWN
RECENT PAST, WHICH BRINGS ME
BACK, FINALLY, TO THE QUESTION
OF OUR RECENT PAST, AND OUR
PRESENT.
YES, THERE IS A LOT OF WAR IN
THIS BOOK -- HOLY, BUT MOSTLY
UNHOLY.
SUCH WAS THE TENOR OF THE
TIMES.
HISTORICAL ACTORS WERE
MOTIVATED NOT JUST BY RELIGION,
OF COURSE, BUT MORE OFTEN BY
THE USUAL MOTIVES OF GREED,
NEED, BLOODTHIRSTINESS,
AMBITION, MEGALOMANIA,
SOCIOPATHY AND VAINGLORY, BUT
ASIDE FROM THE BATTLE, THERE IS
ALSO A LOT OF COMPLICITY IN
INTERMINGLING OVER THE
CENTURIES.
IT IS A SHARED STORY, A COMMON
HERITAGE FOR THOSE OF US WHO
CONSIDER OURSELVES HEIRS IN
SOME WAYS, OF THE
MEDITERRANEAN.
HISTORIAN RICHARD W. BULLIET OF
COLUMBIA, IN HIS EXCELLENT,
THE CASE FOR ISLAMO-
CHRISTIAN CIVILISATION,
HAS LIKENED THE INTERACTION
BETWEEN THE MANY SOCIETIES
INFORMED BY THE TWO FAITHS
DURING THIS PERIOD, AS SIBLING
RIVALRY.
IT'S A TERM THAT I TAKE UP,
SIBLING RIVALRY, WITH ALL ITS
CONNOTATIONS OF FAMILIARITY AND
AFFECTION, FRICTION AND
COMPETITION.
I PREFER THAT TERM, SIBLING
RIVALRY, TO THE SHIBBOLETH OF
CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS.
THE READER WILL SEE THAT I DO
NOT SPEAK OF ISLAM OR
CHRISTENDOM AS MONOLITHS,
ALMOST AS MUCH--
AS MONOLITHS, ALMOST AS MUCH
TIME IS SPENT ON DIVISIONS,
SCHISMS AND RIVALRIES WITHIN
EACH FAITH.
SPEAKING OF EITHER AS A
MONOLITH SHOULD BE LEFT TO
FANATICS.
LIKE TODAY, THERE WAS A VERY
HUMAN, AND THUS REASSURING
CACOPHONY OF OPINION AND BELIEF
ALL AROUND THE SEA.
I SHOULD SAY A RATHER
COMMERCIALLY MINDED FRIEND OF
MINE SUGGESTED THAT I ENTITLE
THE BOOK MEDITERRANEAN
CLEAVAGES, BUT--

The audience laughs.

Stephen says I RESISTED THE TEMPTATION.
SO IN THE END, IT WAS A SEA OF
FAITH, IT WAS AN AGE OF FAITH.
IF INDIVIDUAL ACTORS VARIED IN
THE DEPTHS OF THEIR PIETY, THEY
STILL SWAM IN A SEA WHERE THE
HAND OF GOD COULD SAVE THEM
FROM DROWNING OR PUSH THEIR
HEADS UNDER.
TIMES HAVE AND HAVE NOT
CHANGED.
AMARTYA SEN, IN HIS VALUABLE
NEW BOOK,
IDENTITY AND
VIOLENCE, THE ILLUSION OF
DESTINY
ARGUES AGAINST
MINIATURISING PEOPLE, TAKING
ONLY ONE ASPECT OF THEIR
IDENTITY AND PIGEONHOLING THEM
AS MUSLIM, CHRISTIAN OR
WHATEVER.
I AGREE WITH HIM.
IN THIS
BOOK, ALTHOUGH IT MAY SEEM
POLAR OR BINARY IN ITS
CONSTRUCTION, IT IS SHOWN THAT
THERE IS A COMMON HERITAGE, AND
MOST CERTAINLY A SHARED PAST.
THE TWAIN DID MEET, MINGLE AND
FORGE SOMETHING NEW.

The caption changes to "Hart House Library, University of Toronto. May 15, 2006."

Stephen says IN THE
EPILOGUE TO THE BOOK, I SAY WHY
THIS IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER,
AND HERE I'M GOING TO QUOTE
MYSELF AGAIN.
"TRUE, THE TEMPLAR KNIGHT AND
THE WHITE ROBED JANISSARY CUT
MORE DASHING FIGURES THAN THE
MOZARAB SCRIBE AND THE KYRENE
MERCHANT, BUT ALL DESERVE EQUAL
SEATING IN THE GALLERY OF
COLLECTIVE MEMORY.
PERHAPS THE CORDOBA AND PALERMO
OF CONVIVENCIA WILL ONE DAY
TAKE THEIR PROPER PLACE
ALONGSIDE THE BLOODSHED OF THE
CRUSADES AND POITIERS AS
CONVERSATIONAL COMMONPLACES TO
DESCRIBE THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN IN
THE MIDDLE AGES.
BUT PERHAPS NOT, FOR THE
SUFFERING SOMETIMES OCCASIONED
BY THAT RELATIONSHIP HAS
SCORCHED MEMORY.
FEAR OF THE TURK, THAT SPECTRAL
PRESENCE IN WESTERN FOLK
CULTURE, TODAY HAUNTS MANY OF
THE REACTIONS TO TURKEY'S
CANDIDACY FOR MEMBERSHIP IN THE
EUROPEAN UNION.
THE PHANTASM OF CONFESSIONAL
PERIL HAS BEEN RESURRECTED IN
PANICKED PREDICTIONS OF A
MUSLIM TIDE FROM ANATOLIA
ENGULFING WHAT IS STILL
DESCRIBED IN SOME QUARTERS, AS
CHRISTIAN EUROPE.
SECULAR EUROPEANS, HOWEVER MUCH
THEY DEPLORE OR SNICKER AT SUCH
ANACHRONISMS CANNOT DENY THEIR
ATAVISTIC PULL.
FACED WITH THE THREATENING OR
THE UNFAMILIAR, THE CHILDREN OF
THE ENLIGHTENMENT MAY YET COME
TO RESEMBLE SOME OF THE
CREATURES OF THE SEA OF FAITH.
IN THE BALKANS IN RECENT YEARS,
MODERN NATIONALISM TURNED EVEN
MORE MURDEROUS THAN USUAL WHEN
MIXED WITH RELIGIONS
RESENTMENT.
IF THE GEOGRAPHY OF BELIEF ONCE
AGAIN BECOMES SUBJECT TO
DISCUSSION THEN THIS BOOK,
RATHER THAN HIGHLIGHTING A
SHARED MEMORY WORTH RECOVERING,
WILL BE MERELY THE FIRST
INSTALMENT IN A SERIES THAT
PICKS UP THE ACTION IN THE
PRESENT DAY, AND RANGES FAR
BEYOND THE MEDITERRANEAN.
RELIGION, FOR ALL ITS SOLACE,
WILL ALWAYS BE A READYMADE HAND
GRENADE FOR THOSE SEEKING TO
INSPIRE TERROR OR WAGE WAR.
SO I GUESS WHAT I'M REALLY
ARGUING WITH THIS BOOK, THIS
HISTORICAL AND LITERARY AIDE-
MEMOIRE, IS FOR A CHANGE OF
PERSPECTIVE.
THE READER SHOULD TAKE AWAY
FROM IT THE NOTION OF SIBLING
RIVALRY, YES, BUT MORE
IMPORTANT, THE IDEA OF
SIBLINGS.
IT IS TIME TO GET REACQUAINTED
WITH THE FAMILY HISTORY.
AND AT THE VERY LEAST, THE
READER MIGHT LOOK AT THOSE
NEWSPAPERS DIFFERENTLY OR WHEN
SOMEONE LIKE DICK CHENEY STARTS
MUTTERING ABOUT CONCEPTS LIKE
THE CALIPHATES, WE'LL AT LEAST
HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT HE IS
MISREPRESENTING THIS TIME
AROUND.

The audience laughs.

Stephen says THERE IS ONLY SO MUCH YOU CAN
TAKE ON FAITH -- EVEN BAD
FAITH.
THANK YOU.

The audience applauds.

Watch: Stephen O'Shea on his book "Sea of Faith"