Katherine Allen Smith’s Book Shortlisted for American Academy of Religion Prize

June 4, 2012

Historical inquiry reveals the innate warrior in medieval monks

TACOMA, Wash. – A highly regarded book by Katherine Allen Smith, associate professor of history at University of Puget Sound, has been shortlisted for a prestigious award by the American Academy of Religion. Her book, War and the Making of Medieval Monastic Culture (Boydell Press, 2011), was one of five finalists for the Best First Book Prize in the History of Religions award category.

Smith has been invited to the November awards ceremony at the academy’s 2012 annual meeting in Chicago. Although her book did not take the final award, Louis Ruprecht Jr., the jury chair from Georgia State University, wrote in a congratulatory letter that the extraordinarily high quality of nominees spoke to “the richness of your work that it was recognized as one of the very finest to be published in the past year.”

War and the Making of Medieval Monastic Culture is a work that contributes to the shift in scholarly understanding of the medieval monks and how they saw themselves during the early crusading era. Rather than living as simple men of prayer in peaceful sanctuaries surrounded by a violent world, the monks, Smith writes, were men who saw themselves as warriors—soldiers of Christ in ongoing combat with the devil.

Smith’s viewpoint diverges from that of historians who have traditionally drawn a sharp distinction between the sacred and secular worlds of the medieval age. Smith is applauded by book reviewer Matthew Gabriele of Virginia Tech in The Medieval Review for being “among a veritable wave of young scholars taking on and breaking down the artificial distinctions” drawn in many modern analyses of that earlier time.

The book examines how monastic writers of the 11th and 12th centuries, influenced by the emergence of a new warrior class in Europe, used military imagery to describe their own calling. The Catholic University of America Press reviewer Constance Bouchard, of The University of Akron, cites the work as the “first in-depth study” in this area. Men who left the military life to join a cloister found immediate familiarity in their new lives as “warriors-in-training,” while monastic commentaries on the Bible portrayed God as a war leader and salvation as a grace to be taken by force.

Reviewer Gabriele summed up, “It is thorough, thoughtful, and penetrating. In so doing, it does its best work in knocking down relatively useless categories that are revealed to have been modern constructions.”

Katherine Allen Smith, associate professor of history at Puget Sound, has published articles in Speculum, Viator, Church History, and Journal of Medieval History. She is co-editor, with Scott Wells, of Negotiating Community and Difference in Medieval Europe (Brill, 2009) and is currently working on two projects, the first dealing with the roles of monks and secular clerics within the early crusades as participants, promoters, and chroniclers; and the second with the ritual aspects of life in monastic communities. Smith received her doctorate and two master’s degrees in history from New York University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Vassar College.

Press photos of Katherine Allen Smith and the book cover of War and the Making of Medieval Monastic Culture can be downloaded from: www.pugetsound.edu/pressphotos

Photos on page: Top right: Book cover; Above left: Katherine Allen Smith

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