Sea of Faith

by Stephen O'Shea

Hardcover, 2006



Call number




Profile Books Ltd (2006), Hardcover


The shared history of Christianity and Islam began, shortly after Islam emerged in the seventh century A.D., with a question: Who would inherit the world of the Mediterranean? Sprung from the same Abrahamic source, the two faiths played out what historian O'Shea calls "sibling rivalry writ very large." Their clashes on the battlefield were balanced by long periods of coexistence and mutual enrichment, and by the end of the sixteenth century the religious boundaries of the modern world were drawn. O'Shea chronicles the meetings of minds and the collisions of armies that marked 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 recounts seven pivotal battles between the forces of Christianity and Islam that shaped the Mediterranean world.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member sergerca
This book is beautifully written. I read to gain knowledge, but O'Shea is a very gifted writer, and I haven't read something so eloquent in some time.

That said... I can't help but feel that O'Shea has a much dimmer view of Christianity's medieval history than Islam's. Sure, he covers the forced
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conversions of the Janissaries, dhimmitude, and so on, but I got the impression that he was more disgusted with the immorality of the Christians of this era. Maybe he expected better of them, being that Christianity was born in peace, while Islam was a militaristic, conquering faith from the start. If he feels this way, he doesn't let on. Perhaps I’m just letting my modern views of militant Islam color my perceptions of history. I’m not sure. However, I got the impression that O’Shea is saying, “Islam was much more willing to allow diversity in their lands, and the zealot Christians just wouldn’t leave well-enough alone.” My limited knowledge of dhimmitude leads me to believe it was far worse than the inconvenient jizya tax O’Shea makes it out to be.

Also, while the back cover says this book covers “seven major battles” in no way is this is story of those battles. It is the story of the Christian-Islamic medieval world, with these battles used as mile-markers. If you’re looking for in depth information about Poitiers and Manzikert, this isn’t your book.

All in all, this was a fascinating read. There are lots of characters, but a very good glossary and character directory in the back. Also, there could have been more maps, but there are some good photos that augment the text.
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LibraryThing member ldmarquet
A clever idea but ultimately flawed. The concept is to portray the interplay and mutual benefits that Islam and Christianity brought to each other through the mechanism of the Mediterranean Sea.

He focus on select events and battles, but even these are not well detailed.

In my opinion, however, the
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division of the middle sea by the introduction of Islam was divisive, disruptive of trade, and horribly costly in terms of lives. O'Shea glosses over these more fundamental trends in order to attempt to develop a feel-good history of Christian - Islam symbiosis.
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LibraryThing member 4bonasa
This book should not be the first book read on the subject, but a reader well grounded in religeon and history of the period will find this book well written and well documented history of Christianity and Islam from the first contact through the battle for Malta. I believe Mr. O'Shea erred by
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confining the narrative to the Mediterranean basin and neglected the Balkans and wars with the Habsburgs of Austria. I believe the author understates dhimmitude as well as the general aggressive nature of Islam. Follow the life of Maimonides's from Spain, across North Africa to Cairo to get a sense the lives of infidels under ever changing Islamic rulers.
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LibraryThing member jerry-book
Excellent depiction of the battle between Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages. The author shows how Isam lost Spain and how the Byzantines lost Constantinople. The fierce battle over Malta at the end of the period was a fitting climax.
LibraryThing member jerry-book
A sprightly account of the war between Islam and the Christians from the Byzantine defeat at Yarmuk in the 7th century to the Christian victories at Malta and Lepanto in the 16th century.
LibraryThing member MaowangVater
This is a very well written military history of the medieval Mediterranean. O’Shea gives a detailed description of ten key battles spanning nine centuries and an insightful cultural history of the cultural consequences that were the results. As he points out in his introduction, “…the
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encounter between Christian and Islamic societies was not exclusively of a religious nature. Sparks flew for many reasons, the greatest of which was the belief in war as the ultimate arbiter of politics and policy.” The result of these mixed motives, which still haunt us today, might be massacres, or commercial or religious convivencia, where the members of different faiths lived in peaceful coexistence and cooperation. There was, however, a tax on unbelief. It cost more to worship the God of Abraham if you didn’t worship Him the way your rulers did.

O'Shea’s research, witnessed by his impressive notes and bibliography, is impressive. As his vocabulary, as witnessed by how many times I had to look up the adjectives he uses in the Oxford English Dictionary.
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Physical description

432 p.; 9.21 inches


186197521X / 9781861975218
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