21 March 2024

In the book Tempelherreorden (“The Knights Templar”), church historian Kjell O Lejon has summarised his research on the period of the Crusades to give his view of history. He believes the book is an important piece of the puzzle for understanding contemporary world-wide conflicts.

Kjell O Lejon
In over 25 books, Kjell O Lejon has analyzed both medieval and modern history where he has found parallels to the present. Anna Nilsen

Kjell O Lejon is a professor of religious studies at Linköping University,

“It’s particularly exciting to be a church historian when you can connect findings to current events and modern rhetoric. But, given the situation in the world today, it’s a sensitive subject,” he says.

In his book on the Knights Templar, he describes the Crusades, the first of which took place more than 900 years ago. But the book differs from the stories that people are told in popular culture and big-budget films. Based on newly found documents, Kjell O Lejon wants to shed new light on the history of the Crusades and the Knights Templar, which can be linked to today’s conflicts and modern rhetoric. He believes that it is important to have factual knowledge of these events in order to understand the present.

“My idea is to correct a prevailing, but from the point of view of historical research incorrect, image of the Crusades. When I study newly written popular science texts, read literature or watch films, I notice time and again that a misleading Western “standard view” is being recounted. Such as that the medieval Crusades are to blame for today’s enmity between West and East or between Christianity and Islam.”

An important part of Kjell O Lejon’s work involves clarifying and describing uses of history, not least if it turns out that the use is based on a narrative that is incorrect. That is, what is passed on creates an image that is different from what actually happened.

In his book, Kjell O Lejon describes the standard view that in the West has resulted in an assignment of blame, based on a specific view of the Crusader era and the relationship between the West and the Middle East. This can also be found in modern-day rhetoric, which can take very different forms depending on what standard view the politicians are relying on.

“Conflicts often pick up on concepts that relate to historical processes or events, which are meant to strengthen one’s own rhetoric. It may be a specific interpretation of what once happened, which you believe can be used to pursue a specific political line.”

Kjell O Lejon.
Fotograf Anna Nilsen
Kjell O Lejon’s interest in researching this particular subject was aroused many years ago when he was a visiting professor in the United States, where he held a course on religion and film. One of the films analysed was Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven from 2005. It is partly set in 12th century Jerusalem and is, according to Scott, historically accurate. But when Kjell O Lejon and his students began to investigate the story, they noticed that several things were not right.
“We often believe what we see, hear, and read. Even historical novels and modern films influence us, and the authors often say that their “facts” are true. But usually the whole picture is not given, which can give a skewed view of both what was going on and what is going on.”
It has not been easy to compile his research into a book. Kjell O Lejon is careful to point out that he wants to present facts, identify and explain history. He also strives to write in a way that even those who do not know all the names, places and years can understand.
“When I find something that can be significant for better understanding rhetoric and events, I find it encouraging, not least when it concerns the rhetoric that is used or has been used in conflicts. It’s important to ask ourselves questions about how we think, and why. Questions about what information we have been fed and what it leads to.”



Name: Kjell Olof Urban Lejon

Occupation: Professor of religious studies, director of studies and head of department. Previously worked as a priest in the Church of Sweden and as a university college president. Qualified reserve officer, Captains rang.

Age: Born in 1958

Family: Wife Annika, three adult sons

In the news with: Books Sveriges kristna arv (“The Christian heritage of Sweden”), Tro, kultur och byggandet av det svenska tillits- och välfärdssamhället (“Faith, culture and the building of the Swedish community of trust and welfare state”) and Tempelherreorden (”The Knights Templar”). A new and expanded version of From Truman to Trump will be released this autumn.

Kjell O Lejon.
Kjell O Lejon has two main research areas - religion and politics in the USA and the history of Christianity in Sweden Anna Nilsen

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