During the medieval period, church-sanctioned religious wars were fought on the frontiers of Europe for a variety of reasons, initially to secure Jerusalem for Latin Christendom, but later for religious conversion, as well as political and territorial advantage.
The University of Reading is one of the few places in the UK that offers dedicated teaching of the archaeology of crusading, and Dr Aleks Pluskowski uses case studies in his modules which draw directly on his experiences in the field. Students participate in his excavations, and have contributed as co-authors to publications from his projects with data generated from their dissertations.
Responding to student needs, Aleks wrote the first English language book on The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade to enable his students to access the largely Polish, but also German, Russian and Lithuanian scholarly literature.
Aleks is fascinated by the influence of religion on human behaviour in the past, particularly the conversion to and acceptance of Christianity around Europe at different times. As an environmental archaeologist, he aims to provide a different perspective on the impact of religious change. How does our understanding of the imposition and influence of religion provide a window onto human behaviour and motivation? What does the way people interacted with their environment tell us about how they lived and believed?
"The environment – animals, plants, landscape – is an interesting way of looking at how religion drives people to think and behave, because a lot of religions put emphasis on the environment and how you relate to other species; which is ultimately about how we think about ourselves."
Aleks examines societies where religious change was imposed through force, and what we can learn about this cultural clash from how the people at the time used the landscape and environment they lived in. Examining the environmental evidence around medieval structures and cultural frontier spaces allows him to investigate how people lived in these multi-cultural crucibles through a new lens.