Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Taste of Conquest

I'm reading and very much enjoying Michael Krondl's The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice (2007) at the moment.  At one point he is discussing the mixture of monetary and evangelistic motivations for the great Portuguese explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries:
Academic historians of the last hundred years or so get all stiff and tweedy when you suggest that people will go to all ends for the sake of their religion.  They'll assure you that religion is just a cover for other, more "rational" motivations.  They would prefer to explain the world in terms of economic self-interest, of class warfare, or of dynastic imperatives.  But has not the early twenty-first century made it catastrophically clear how many people (and not just the desperate, either) are ready leap over the brink in the name of their religion?  The same was certainly true of "the age of discovery."
This has long been my beef with the Marxian dominance in the history profession--the need to explain everything in terms of economics.  Sure, economic interests are very important.  But they are not the only motivation for humans do things.  I think the problem is that so many academics find religion absurd (at least, if it is the religion of the people whose taxes are paying their salaries--Islam gets a special dispensation because it is exotic and the enemy) that they simply refuse to believe that it could be much of an influence on anyone who has ever done anything substantial.

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