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Aarhus University

The Scandinavian Department, in collaboration with the Departments of Religion, History and Archaeology, offers wide-ranging expertise in many of the subject areas covered by the programme. Aarhus University promotes a vibrant interdisciplinary milieu, and scholars in the various departments are keen to work with international students, both as teachers and course coordinators. Aarhus University offers special expertise in the fields of literary analysis, literary and cultural theory (narrativity, memory studies, orality and literacy), reception studies, Old Norse mythology, comparative religion and anthropological theory, and material history. 

The Viking and Medieval Norse Studies programme is represented at Aarhus University by:

Associate Professor Pernille Hermann
Department of Aesthetics and Communication — Scandinavian

Course offerings vary from one year to another. These are some of the courses that have been offered in recent years: 

Saga Literature and Concepts of Memory (10 ECTS)

Instructor: Prof. Pernille Hermann

In recent decades there has been an increased focus on memory studies in the humanities. This course will deal with recently developed theories of memory and investigate them specifically in relation to the medieval Icelandic saga, a genre which is immensely preoccupied with the past, i.e. the Viking Age. Medieval culture was a memorial culture, which makes it highly relevant to investigate how the people behind the literature of that time trained their memory and in what ways the literature was indebted to different types of memory. During the course various memory types will be presented and discussed, for instance, collective memory, cultural memory and individual memory, and it will be asked to what extent theories of memory can increase our understanding of the sagas. Also medieval perceptions of memory will be explored, for instance, through investigations of how memory was expressed (metaphorically or directly) in the texts. It is the main purpose of this course to investigate how various branches of (relatively) newly developed memory studies can offer a useful framework for understanding the past that is described in the medieval Icelandic saga. The course will provide the students with knowledge of theoretical aspects of general relevance for how groups and individuals of all times approach their past, as well as with a new perspective on a unique genre which until this day has puzzled its readers. Students will be expected to participate actively in class (i.e. with oral presentations and in group work) and to identify relevant fields of research. Exam: According to the study regulations, written essay if more than 10–12 students, oral exam if less than 10 students.

The Rhetorics of Old Norse Mythology (10 ECTS)

Instructor: Rolf Stavnem, Ph.D.

Old Norse Mythology is primarily preserved for posterity in poems and prose narratives that are redacted or summarised by medieval scribes. Most of the extant narratives are found in the two eddas, The Poetic Edda and Snorri's Edda. A thorough study of these two medieval books is the foundation for the study of Old Norse mythology. Both works are celebrated classics in Scandinavian literature and although they have been studied by generations of scholars from various disciplines the interest in them has not diminished the slightest and many central questions remain to be solved. In the course we will explore myths and mythic references in the eddas on three different levels:

(1) The genre in which mythology is represented, namely skaldic poetry, eddic poetry, prose narrative and didactic prose. Most clearly the role of generic conventions are seen in cases where myths are known from more than one type of narration and consequently differ significantly from genre to genre. Archetypical forms of narration such as myth, fairy tale and riddle will be considered as well as theories on orality and literacy will be important points of reference for the discussion.

(2) The world-view represented in the texts which reflects both a religious and a secular approach to the daily life including views on women and men, sexuality, honor, death etc.

(3) The medieval Christian textual culture in which myth was transmitted and interpreted. The intellectual elite of Iceland edited and contextualised the vast material in fictionalised frame narratives and learned speculation in order to fit Old Norse myth into a Christian world-view. The fundamental question yet to be solved is the degree of the Christian impact on the traditional pre-Christian material and how much it means for our understanding of it.

Problems and Strategies in the Reconstruction of Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religion (10 ECTS)

Instructor: Prof. Jens Peter Schjødt

In attempting to reconstruct the pre-Christian religion of the North we face a host of problems; most of them have to do with the sources. As everybody the least acquainted with the subject will know, most of the sources are written in the Middle Ages and it is very difficult to judge how much the authors knew about the pagan past. Further we also know that what has been transmitted in the extant manuscripts is only a tiny bit of what once existed in the lore of pre-Christian Scandinavia, most often in oral form. These problems and many more make it extremely difficult to do any sort of reconstruction.

What we shall deal with in this course is thus firstly to identify the problems that are at stake and secondly to discuss what means we do have, nevertheless, in out attempts of such reconstructions, evaluating the approaches of various disciplines. New recognitions within the history of religions seem to be of help, not least when it comes to the use of comparative material. Using such comparative material will offer opportunities for asking more qualified questions to the material than was done earlier on.

The course will be a mixture of lectures and discussions of individual sources as well as theoretical problems concerning historical reconstructions, for instance the value of ordinary source criticism, applied to reconstructions of no-longer existing religions. The students will be asked to identify specific areas of problems and to give oral as well as written presentations. Some weeks there will thus be individual supervision rather than ordinary teaching. During the first couple of weeks we will therefore decide the details of the program which will depend on the individual needs of the students (exam: written essay).

Other courses offered in recent years include:

  • Old Norse-Icelandic literature (Scandinavian Institute) (10 ECTS)
  • Old Norse Myths in Eddas and Sagas (Scandinavian Institute) (10 ECTS)
  • Old Norse Myth in Medieval and Modern Times (Scandinavian Institute) (10 ECTS)
  • Old Norse Religion (Scandinavian Institute) (10 ECTS)
  • History and Cultural Memory (Department of History) (10 ECTS)