Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series 2016–2017

Luke John Murphy

Between Unity and Diversity

Articulating Pre-Christian Nordic Religion and its Spaces in the Late Iron Age

Thursday, March 2, 2017, at 16.30
Oddi 101

Luke John Murphy

There is a growing acceptance that pre-Christian religion in the Nordic region was not a single monolithic cultural system, but rather varied along a range of geographic, social, temporal, and even cognitive axes. Despite this, relatively little scholarly attention has yet been paid to distinct articulations of Late Iron Age Nordic religion, with both the physical and social settings of religious praxis notably understudied. This talk presents the findings of a recent doctoral dissertation at University of Aarhus, which sought to contribute to the emerging discourse of diversity and variation in pre-Christian religion in the Germanic Nordic cultural area during the Late Iron Age (c. 500-1200 AD).

Drawing on medieval textual accounts, archaeological evidence, and toponymic data, the tension between the twin tendencies towards unity and diversity in a range of Late Iron Age religious contexts are explored. Models of pre-Christian religion\s in a range of settings — from public cult at Gotlandic þing-sites to household religion in settlement-age Iceland — are analysed with tools and methods developed in the wider History of Religions, leading to the conclusion that pre-Christian Nordic religion was practiced in a range of physical and social settings, and exhibited remarkable diversity over the course of the Late Iron Age.

It is therefore argued that while we can meaningfully speak of “pre-Christian Nordic religion” in the singular, to do so is best done when comparing or contrasting Nordic paganism to other religions. A number of more or less distinct pre-Christian Nordic religion\s are also identified, including those that appear to have been particular geographic articulations of the wider religion; those that employed different sacrally-charged spaces in their pursuit of hierophany and kratophany; and those that appear to have been the religious output of a distinct social unit. It is hoped that these findings will prove relevant not only to scholars and students of Late Iron Age religion, but also to fields including the Study of Religion, Scandinavian History, and Viking Studies.

Luke John Murphy has recently submitted his PhD dissertation at Aarhus University. He is presently teaching Pre-Christian Nordic Religion at Háskóli Íslands, and will take up a Bernadotte Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Stockholm University in autumn 2017. His research interests include religious variation, female supranatural beings, and method and theory in the study of Pre-Christian Nordic religion.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.