Eric Lybeck

Thesis Title: "Runes, Vikings, Kings and Christ:  Scandinavian Religions from 800 to 1250 C.E."

Advisor: Henry W. Bowden

This year I completed a thesis entitled “Runes, Vikings, Kings and Christ: Scandinavian Religions from 800 to 1250 C.E.”  As the title suggests, my project was an examination of religion within the Northern European territories in modern-day Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Northern England.  During the course of my studies at Rutgers in the Religion Department, I have been exposed to the indigenous traditions of North America, Africa and East Asia.  Often, the most fascinating material in these courses involved the interaction of the folk beliefs and rituals with those of imported faiths that have been termed World Religions.  In the case of Native Americans, for example, the Christian missionaries sent by the Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English encountered a complex and vibrant indigenous belief system, which they attempted to dismantle in their effort to con­vert the continent.  But Europe itself was not Christianized until several centuries into the Common Era.  Without the benefit of recent historical records, I set out to learn about the religious landscape present when the European conti­nent was con­verted to Christianity.  Scandinavia offered the best resources since it was one of the last areas in Europe to convert, leaving historians one of the only coherent mythological systems besides the Greco-Roman model of paganism.  My research led me to interesting areas of study including Norse mythology and ritual practices, and the Christian conversion, which involved a relatively swift political conversion of kings and earls followed by a gradual, competitive, and often bloody acceptance of Christianity by the lay people.  Also of interest was the dramatic shift in the roles of women in religion and soci­ety, who in myth and culture went from the status of heroines and leaders to that of virgins and domestics.  The history of the period was fascinating and dramatic.   It was a culture and period I had very little knowledge of going into my research and I am infinitely grateful for the opportu­nity I have had to look into an area of religious studies that is often ignored.