Taking the Western side in religious history

A reader recently asked me about a history of Islam which did not exhibit the strong biases evident in Karen Armstrong’s body of work. I don’t know what to recommend really because I don’t read too many popular works of Islamic history with a broad sweep, almost all of them are too weighted down with extraneous ideological garbage (mind you, I am able to filter it out pretty easily, but in many of these books the garbage is too much to dig through). But, I would recommend all readers to Philip Jenkins’ histories of Christianity. I have just finished The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died, and can recommend it. Jenkins is an Episcopalian, and generally seems to have sympathy with religious traditionalists, though not necessarily of the fundamentalist stripe. I don’t agree with him on everything, but his biases and theoretical agendas weigh relatively lightly and transparently through his narratives. Additionally, it is obvious that Jenkins’ has particular sympathy with Christians and Christianity, though he does a good job of evaluating the scholarship without letting his own sentiments cloud his assessments too much. I know some readers may be attracted to Rodney Starks’ most recent polemics, such as God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, to counteract the anti-Western bias in the popular historical literature (e.g., The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain). If Philip Jenkins is Hugh Hefner, Rodney Stark is Larry Flynt. I know that a Hustler “spread” fits the bill on occasion, but in the end something a bit more tasteful and understated (and frankly, accurate) is more edifying to all.

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