PhD Research Proposal
- 1 Personal Transformation in Medieval Scandinavian Literature: Three Case Studies
- 2 From the Aberdeen Website
- 3 Primary Sources
- 4 Secondary Sources
- 5 Fun Quotes / Inspiration
- 6 Benchmarking
"In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora" (I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities) -- Ovid, Metamorphoses
The literature of early medieval Scandinavia reflects a world in transition: Oral culture is giving way to written; regional autonomy to nations governed by kings; and widespread conversion to Christianity, to name just a few. These are macro-level transitions, but underlying and contributing to them are myriad stories of individual and personal transformation.
My proposed thesis will take a micro-level, case study approach to explore the theme of transformation in medieval Scandinavian literature, focusing on three different types of personal transformation that occur with some degree of frequency in the sagas, and potentially in other types of tangential literature: Becoming an adult, becoming a ruler, and becoming a Christian.
In medieval Scandinavian studies, there is no shortage of research and writing on religious conversion, or on narratives about kings and rulers. The transition between childhood and adulthood is somewhat underrepresented, but has attracted recent scholarship. Taken individually, none of these topics would be promising for a dissertation-length project. However, considering them together under the lens of "transformation" would allow for comparative analysis of themes, language, and processes that might otherwise remain obscure. It would also allow for a more interdisciplinary approach, grounded in literary analysis, but drawing from psychology, anthropology, and history of religions.
Becoming an Adult
- a near universal transformation.
- Primary Sources: Volsunga & Family Sagas (Egil, Grettir, Laxdaela, Njal)
- Secondary Sources: Danielli, Haggerty, Larrington, Schjodt, Hansen, Callow
- Research Questions:
Becoming a Ruler
- a selective transformation experienced by a relative few.
- Primary Sources: Heimskringla, Volsunga, Rígsþula
- Secondary Sources: Schjodt, Clunies-Ross, McTurk
- Historiography: Sacral Kingship debate (how'd you get to be king?)
- Research Questions:
Becoming a Christian
- a progressive transformation, experienced selectively at first, and then by increasing numbers of individuals.
- Primary Sources: Njal, Hallfreðr, Heimskringla
- Secondary Sources: Abram, Antonsson, Gronlie, Rambo
- Research Questions:
Why? So What?
Why Me? Why Aberdeen?
This research project will allow me to bring together my previous undergraduate work in literature as well as my graduate degrees in education and divinity, both of which are concerned with personal transformation. Often, I find that in studying narratives and cultures that are geographically and chronologically removed from my own, fresh perspectives and insights present themselves in regard to my present work and context, far more so than if I were to focus directly upon them. In my vocation as a minister, I have a vested interest in the processes and rituals by which those in my community experience growth, maturity, and transformation. Long before I was a minister, however, I was an avid enthusiast for Northern Eurpoean mythologies, literatures, and languages. This research project thus sits comfortably at the intersection of my personal, academic, and professional interests, and will prove useful to my congregation, which will also be my primary funding source for completion of the program.
Several factors make Aberdeen University and the Centre for Scandinavian Studies the ideal institution for me to pursue this research. Among them are a stated commitment to an interdisciplinary approach, a unique focus on early medieval Scandinavian context, and a geographic centrality among Scandinavian points of interest. Dr. Hannah Burrows' expertise in Norse language, texts and legal sources will be valuable resources, and her thoughtful, attentive approach as an advisor has been commended by several students currently under her supervision. Finally, Aberdeen's willingness to accomodate my need for part-time and distance study is essential, and greatly appreciated.
From the Aberdeen Website
Applicants must submit a detailed research proposal. The full proposal, preferably between 1,000 and 1,500 words, should include at least the following elements:
- a clear description of the proposed thesis topic, indicating the research problem and expected scope of the investigation;
- a description of how the proposed topic fits into the existing field;
- an indication of how the research is to be carried out (e.g. study of written sources, social surveys, fieldwork);
- an indication of why the University of Aberdeen is suited to the proposed research (e.g. staff expertise, library or archival resources).
- Bayerschmidt, Carl F., and Lee M. Hollander, translators. Njáls Saga. Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1998.
- Byock, Jesse L., translator. The Saga of the Volsungs. Penguin Classics, 2000.
- Kunz, Keneva, translator. “The Saga of the People of Laxardal.” The Sagas of Icelanders, Penguin Classics, 2001, pp. 270–421.
- Larrington, Carolyne, translator. The Poetic Edda. Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Scudder, Bernard, translator. The Saga of Grettir the Strong. Penguin, 2005.
- Scudder, Bernard, translator. "Egils Saga." The Sagas of Icelanders, Penguin Classics, 2001, pp. 3-184.
- Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. Translated by L. M. Hollander, University of Texas Press for the American-Scandinavian Foundation, 2005.
- Whaley, Diana, translator. “The Saga of Hallfred Troublesome-Poet.” Sagas of Warrior Poets, Penguin Classics, 2002.
- Abram, Christopher. “Modeling Religious Experience in Old Norse Conversion Narratives: The Case of Óláfr Tryggvason and Hallfreðr Vandræðaskáld.” Speculum, vol. 90, no. 1, 2015, pp. 114–157.
- Antonsson, Haki. "Traditions of Conversion in Medieval Scandinavia: A Synthesis." Saga-Book, vol. 34, 2010, pp. 25-74.
- Callow, Chris. "Transitions to Adulthood in Early Icelandic Society," Children, Childhood and Society, S. Crawford & G. Shepherd, editors, Oxford, 2007, pp. 45-55.
- Danielli, Mary. “Initiation Ceremonial from Norse Literature.” Folklore, vol. 56, no. 2, 1945, pp. 229–245.
- Grønlie, Sian. “Conversion Narrative and Christian Identity: 'How Christianity Came to Iceland'.” Medium Ævum, vol. 86, no. 1, 2017, pp. 123–146.
- Haggerty, James. "Initiation Rituals in Old Norse Texts and their Relationship to Finno-Karelian Bear Cult Rituals." Unpublished master's thesis, University of Oslo, 2014.
- Hansen, Anna. "Representation of Children in Early Icelandic Society." Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Sydney, 2006.
- Hansen, Anna. "Fosterage and dependency in medieval Iceland and its significance in Gísla Saga", Youth and Age in the Medieval North, Shannon Lewis-Simpson, editor. Leiden: Brill, 2008, pp. 73-86.
- Koester, David. “Icelandic Confirmation Ritual In Cultural-Historical Perspective.” Scandinavian Studies, vol. 67, no. 4, 1995, pp. 476–515.
- Lewis-Simpson, Shannon. "The challenges of quantifying youth and age in the medieval north", Youth and Age in the Medieval North, Shannon Lewis-Simpson, editor. Leiden: Brill, 2008, pp. 1-16.
- Larrington, Carolyne. "Awkward adolescents: Male maturation in norse literature", Youth and Age in the Medieval North, Shannon Lewis-Simpson, editor. Leiden: Brill, 2008, pp. 151-166.
- McTurk, Rory. "Scandinavian Sacral Kingship Revisited." Saga-Book, vol. 24, 1994-1997, pp. 19-32.
- Percivall, Nic. "Teenage angst: The structures and boundaries of adolescence in twelfth-and thirteenth-century Iceland", Youth and Age in the Medieval North, Shannon Lewis-Simpson, editor. Leiden: Brill, 2008, pp. 127-150.
- Ross, Margaret Clunies. ‘From Iceland to Norway: Essential Rites of Passage for an Early Icelandic Skald’, Alvíssmál, vol. 9, 1999, pp. 55–72
- Ross, Margaret Clunies. “Royal Ideology in Early Scandinavia: A Theory Versus the Texts.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 113, no. 1, 2014, pp. 18–33.
- Schjødt, Jens Peter. Initiation between Two Worlds: Structure and Symbolism in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religion. Victor Hansen, translator. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2008.
- Schjødt, Jens Peter. “Ideology of the Ruler in Pre-Christian Scandinavia: Mythic and Ritual Relations.” Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, vol. 6, 2010, pp. 161–194.
- Rambo, Lewis R. Understanding Religious Conversion. Yale University Press, 1993.
Fun Quotes / Inspiration
“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” – Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland
"Most people in America, when they are exposed to the Christian faith, are not being transformed. They take one step into the door, and the journey ends . . . Yet in many ways a focus on spiritual formation fits what a new generation is really seeking. Transformation is a process, a journey, not a one-time decision.” ― David Kinnaman, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters
"few things have more transformative power than people and stories.” ― Shane Claiborne
"Oh king, eh, very nice. An' how'd you get that, eh? ― Monty Python: Quest for the Holy Grail
- SW: 1,947 words - (341 intro & thesis; 486 historiography; 667 chapter breakdown; 152 conclusion; 301 why aberdeen)
- JH: 950 words - (305 intro & thesis; 388 themes & historiography; 101 methodology; 153 impact)