The Medieval Seminar: Burial practices and collective identity in Scandinavia 800-1200


Date: Monday 28 November 2022

Time: 15.00 – 17.00

Location: D900 and zoom

Change and continuity: New perspectives on burial practices and collective identity in Scandinavia, 800-1200

The medieval seminar presents Sophie Bønding, Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies SU, and Frida Espolin Norstein, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies SU

Monday 28 november in D900 and via zoom. Link:

Abstract, Sophie Bønding:

‘Collective conversion’ and ‘sacral rulership’: Factors of religious change and continuity in 10th-century Denmark

The transition from pre-Christian to Christian religion in Denmark, like the rest of Scandinavia, was a long and gradual process that lasted for several centuries, taking place roughly between 800-1200 and involving a complex relationship between breaks and continuity. In current research, the official conversion of Denmark, c. 963, is generally perceived as a religious and political turning point. Yet, scholarly interpretations generally focus on the political dimension of this transition, suggesting that adopting Christianity was a pragmatic political decision made by a level-headed political leader, and is less inclined to engage with the religious dimension of the transition. In this presentation, I seek to supplement the prevailing interpretation focused on Realpolitik with insights into the religious aspects of pre-Christian society in Denmark. Drawing on theories and concepts from the cross-cultural study of religion, I offer new perspectives and reflections on the interrelationship between socio-political and religious dynamics surrounding the official conversion. Notably, I seek to query how the religious dimension of rulership and the role of religion in the formation of communal identities impacted the religious transition and the interplay between breaks and continuity in this process.

Abstact, Frida Espolin Norstein:

Change and continuity: Cremation and inhumation in conversion period Scandinavia

Between 800 and 1200 burial customs in Scandinavia changed significantly. This change in practice is often presented as a shift from varied and complex pagan practices to more uniform Christian burials. This change is seen as part of the larger narrative about the Christianization of Scandinavia. The transition between these forms of burial customs is often presented as linear and progressive, moving towards ideal Christian practice. In this paper I will examine more closely one of the changes that is supposed to be linked to conversion, the transition from cremation to inhumation graves. In a long-term and large-scale sense, there is certainly a change from cremation to inhumation, and it is certainly not unreasonable to see this generally in connection with conversion and Christianisation. However, this does not mean that this process was linear and progressive on a smaller scale. And it is this smaller scale I want to examine more closely. How does the change between cremation and inhumation practices take place in more short term and small-scale contexts, and what does this tell us about the relationship between the practices and the people performing them?