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Distributed for Museum Tusculanum Press

Lay Belief in Norse Society 1000-1350

With insightful readings of his source material – which includes Norse sagas, Eddic literature and church homilies – Arnved Nedkvitne sheds light on the complex and diversified nature of lay belief in medieval Norse society. One of the study’s main claims suggests that laypeople had a firm belief in life after death – with all central rituals and beliefs seen as a means to this end. Yet, laypeople also had greater latitude in choosing between a sacred or secular understanding of their everyday lives than is often assumed: while religion was a fundamental source of norms, values and concepts at the time, laypeople also had to relate to state laws, codes of honour upheld by the local community and their own material interests. Lay Belief in Norse Society 1000–1350 offers a comprehensive treatment of the diffusion of strains related to the subject at hand: from orthodox rituals to remnants of pagan religion, from Christian ethics to secular honour. Combining a powerful and lucid exploration of his material with astute methodological awareness, Arnved Nedkvitne paints a vivid picture of the religious and cultural landscape of medieval Norse society.

401 pages | © 2009

Religion: Christianity

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Table of Contents


The subject
    Earlier research on the subject
    The sources
    The chapters
Chapter I: Eternal life and salvation
Chapter II: Rituals
    Baptism: purification from original sin and integration
    Divine service: purification, integration and distinction
    The last rites: purification and distinction
    The sacrament of penance: from collective to individual purification
    Individualised purification rituals after the Gregorian reform
    Why did some religious rituals fail?
Chapter III: Religious ethics
    Religious ethics before the Gregorian reform
    The promotion of a pacified society 1150–1350
    From secular to religious poor relief: what difference did it make?
    The relative strength of secular and religious norms
    Religious ethics for clerics only?
Chapter IV: Help in this life through supernatural intervention
    What is a supernatural intervention?
    Divine and magical intervention as religious and political propaganda
    Divine intervention to change the natural course of events?
    Divine interventions to make predictions?
Conclusion: Religion’s power—and its limits


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