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The Conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings,…
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The Conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings, Merchants, and Missionaries in the…

by Anders Winroth

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In The Conversion of Scandinavia, Winroth argues for a reinterpretation of the Christian conversion of Scandinavia in the early Middle Ages. Much older scholarship accepted a narrative of Christian European military and religious conquest, a sort of "proto-imperialist" cultural colonisation of the region. Winroth claims that to the contrary, Scandinavians chose Christianity because it was in the political and economic interests of their societal elites. In the stateless societies of the early medieval North, chieftains built power based on their ability to give gifts and create kinship relationships. This could be financially draining and mitigated against the establishment of long-lasting power, whereas Christianity (with its priests, bishops and codified laws) encouraged stable hierarchies.

There is certainly much to admire about this book. Winroth has brought together a wide swathe of archaeological and literary sources (some of them quite obscure), and I learned a lot about the far-flung economic activities of the Viking age. However, I felt as if in some ways The Conversion of Scandinavia was two different journal articles that had been combined and padded out to the length of a short book (it's 168 pages minus notes, bibliography and index). In the first part of the book, Winroth talks about the Scandinavian (gift exchange) economy; in the second half of the book, he talks about the slow process of conversion. While the latter part of the book depends, to a great extent, on the first part, the two halves of the book don't really speak to one another. I presume that a large part of the first half was underpinned by the realisation that if Scandinavians were able to actively go in search of exotic trade goods, they can do the same when it comes to religious and philosophical ideas, but I never saw Winroth actually articulate that.

I also thought that perhaps this should have been called, not The Conversion of Scandinavia but The Conversion of Elite Scandinavian Men—while I think that Winroth's thesis largely makes sense, it only explains why part of Scandinavian society converted. How do women fit into this narrative? Peasants or small traders or local carpenters? The book that Winroth's written is interesting, but could have been pushed further. ( )
  siriaeve | Aug 25, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300170262, Hardcover)

In this book a MacArthur Award-winning scholar argues for a radically new interpretation of the conversion of Scandinavia from paganism to Christianity in the early Middle Ages. Overturning the received narrative of Europe's military and religious conquest and colonization of the region, Anders Winroth contends that rather than acting as passive recipients, Scandinavians converted to Christianity because it was in individual chieftains' political, economic, and cultural interests to do so.

Through a painstaking analysis and historical reconstruction of both archeological and literary sources, and drawing on scholarly work that has been unavailable in English, Winroth opens up new avenues for studying European ascendency and the expansion of Christianity in the medieval period.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:01 -0400)

"In this book a MacArthur Award-winning scholar argues for a radically new interpretation of the conversion of Scandinavia from paganism to Christianity in the early Middle Ages. Overturning the received narrative of Europe's military and religious conquest and colonization of the region, Anders Winroth contends that rather than acting as passive recipients, Scandinavians converted to Christianity because it was in individual chieftains' political, economic, and cultural interests to do so. Through a painstaking analysis and historical reconstruction of both archeological and literary sources, and drawing on scholarly work that has been unavailable in English, Winroth opens up new avenues for studying European ascendancy and the expansion of Christianity in the medieval period"--… (more)

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