30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Anders Andrén, "Old Norse Religion as an Archaeological Challenge"

Archaeology has been a part of the multidisciplinary field of Old Norse studies ever since the Danish archaeologist Henry Petersen in 1876 published his archaeological survey of pagan rituals and beliefs among the Scandinavians. Since then, the role of archaeology in this field of research has varied quite considerably, due to the theoretical trends in archaeology. In the so-called cultural-historical tradition in the first half of the 20th century, religion was regarded as important, but more or less outside the reach of archaeological enquiry. During the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s the so-called processual archaeology turned away from issues regarding religion, due to the neo-materialistic and neo-evolutionary aspects of this tradition. Only with the cultural turn in the late 1980s and 1990s, which internally has been labelled post-processual or contextual archaeology, did ideology, mentality and to a lesser extent religion came back as important research issues. In this tradition material culture is viewed as an active element in constant negotiations and renegotiations between people. Meaning can be ascribed to artefacts, settlements and landscapes, which can sometimes represent complex ideas. As in many other human sciences, interpretation has been placed centre-stage in archaeology. However, in the last decade, a reaction against the optimistic views and the relativism of some interpretations in the contextual archaeology can be discerned. Now the materiality of objects is underlined, instead of meaning. Focus is on what material culture does with people rather than what it means. With references to the archaeological debate in the last decades, I will show how archaeology can contribute to the study of old Norse religion, above all in respect to regional and social variations, long-term perspectives and cultural encounters, resulting in rapid changes.


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