some of this response was prompted by a discussion on the mediev-l list, so i'm
sending this to both lists. it's just that Karen Jolly's comments illustrate
nicely a point i was trying to make on the other list, namely, that we
medievalists scarcely use anthropological literature and discount issues that
make anthropological sense, but not literate sense.
At 12:23 PM 3/24/00 -1000, you wrote:
> The Christianization of Germanic peoples, and vice-versa, the
>Germanicization of Christianity, is a complex subject well worth study
>and thought. Debates over the survival of "paganism" into the
>"Christian" era continue to range along a wide spectrum. At one end are
>those who argue for a strong and continuous, sometimes underground,
>practice of paganism despite the growth of Christianity. At the other
>end are those who emphasize the success of Christianity's adaptation and
>dominance, especially in the sources that remain to us.
note the dominance of the sources in the pro-xn version.
don't both sides concede that there was a syncretism going on and that much of
the terrain was decidedly, and in great variation, mixed?
the significant issue, it seems to me, is what kinds of phenomena such a
mixture produces. here i think the evidence of the "conversion" of tribes in
africa in the 19th and 20th cns, offers the medievalist an anthropological
literature worth following (not to mention the journalism from a place like
march 2000 uganda).
> A good deal of this debate centers on problems of definition. First
>of all, "paganism" does not exist--it is a label used by medieval
>Christian authors to speak of non-Christian peoples they described
at some point i suggested gentiles and got knocked down. what about
>It is nearly impossible to reconstruct these religions
>from the Christian documentary sources themselves--Bede is particularly
>suspect (many question whether he had any direct information on
>so-called pagan practices). What we know of pre- or non-Christian
>religious practices in Europe can be gleaned from a combination of
>archaeological artifacts, the literature of late-converting peoples (eg
>Scandinavians), and references in Christian sources (penitentials,
>medical texts, condemnations in sermons, etc).
and, of coure, the anthropological literature on the kinds of cultures that
live according to animist beliefs.
> Second, what is "Christianity" is questioned as well: much of what
>has been written about the survival of paganism concerns practices
>accepted as Christian at the time by many people, even if they don't fit
>our notion of "pure" Christianity (whatever that is).
this is a crucial issue which seems insoluble because on the one hand the
empiricists argue against any "intrinsic" definition of xnty, a reasonable
position on the face of it, but which ends up with the rather lame "a xn is
whoever says he's a xn" (perhaps an interesting point when, eg, crusaders start
slaughtering people in the name of being xn, but not very useful when, eg, in
the early middle ages we have so few voices saying "i am xn"). the intrinsics,
of course, end up in the other soup -- ie we give out brownie points to those
whom we consider xn/civilized or pagan/natural depending on some ideological
>My own views on
>this are in my book on elf charms (Popular Religion in Late Saxon
>England: Elf Charms in Context).
i'm ordering it today. Amazon has two rave reviews by customers.
> I can suggest a few of my favorite books, and some with which I
>disagree completely but represent arguments from one end of the spectrum
>or the other:
> Russell, James C., The Germanization of Early Medieval
>Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation
>(Oxford, 1994). I didn't care for the sociohistorical approach.
>Jeffrey Russell did a review of it, but I can't remember where.
this was a painful book to read. gave sociological approaches a bad name. but
that's partly because russell's definition of xnty was more theological than
>Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe (Routledge, 1995).
>The dust jacket says that it pulls together "the fragmented sources of
>Europe's native religions" to "establish the coherence and continuity of
>the Pagan world vision" as a challenge to traditional Christian
>history. In this sense, I think they are inventing "pagan" as a
>contiuous tradition by broadening the definition of pagan in line with
>post-modern religious sensibilities.
great. more ideology. my sense is that alot of paganism survived because it
addressed something for which xnty was ill-equipped to deal with -- fertility.
as the peasants said to cuthbert to explain their hostility to monks -- "they
took away the old ways and now we don't know what to do" (or something like
but for all the syncretism that we may want to argue, i think the most impt
areas are those where we find popular enthusiasm for xn features -- like the
obvious case of many relic cults and pilgrimages, rogations, but also the
charismatic preachers and the "textual communities" based on apostolic life.
my question wd be, at what point do we have evidence for these kinds of popular
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