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The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity Hardcover – March 15, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st American ed edition (March 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805027637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805027631
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

What impels the leaders of a religion to begin systematically to convert an entire continent? How do they go about doing it? How thorough is the conversion to be? What roles do politics and military conquest play in such religious conversion? How does conversion proceed in society, and how does it change society? Fletcher is well qualified to answer these and many other related questions with respect to the Christianizing of Europe during the Middle Ages. The prize-winning author of Moorish Spain and The Search for El Cid, he teaches at the University of York and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. specializing in medieval Spanish history. Spanning an entire millennium and a whole continent, his new work is dauntingly broad in scope, but his lucid presentation and lively and engaging style will carry even casual readers smoothly along. Recommended for both academic and public libraries.?James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, Va.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Fletcher weaves a rich tapestry out of a complex array of materials. He carefully addresses a nonspecialist audience, largely abandoning explanation of the acceptance of Christianity in favor of description of it. Guided by 10 considerations concerning evangelism and conversion, communication and acceptance, he is sensitive to the various ways in which Europe was Christianized and Christianity Europeanized during the course of a thousand years and amid considerable cultural, geographic, and linguistic diversity. Because of his 10-point agenda and because he resists dissolving stories into a single master narrative, his rambling but not superficial description depicts a conversion process that amounted to the continuing invention of Europe, a process that was cultural, not isolatedly individual, and intimately connected with economic, social, and political developments that often involved, as Fletcher puts it, "looking both ways." The conversion Fletcher describes extended beyond the temporal and geographic limits he sets, of course, and his narrative provides essential background for understanding Christianity's shape and cultural impact today, at the end of its second millennium. Steve Schroeder

Customer Reviews

All in all, a useful resource, and an excellent read.
David Marshall
It is beautifully researched and covers the topic with great exhaustion over a wide area of chronolgical history.
Ricky Hunter
It is a huge book both wide in its panorama and focused on important issues.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Rowley on November 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Fletcher's _The Barbarian Conversion_ is the best book on this subject I have read. As a longtime student of the early medieval era, I enjoyed Fletcher's perceptive and astute elucidation of this well-buried era. In some sections of the book, I had read (often repeatedly) every primary source mentioned, and I was continually astonished at the way he drew new insights out of familiar material. Although the middle section does drag a bit (particularly the chapter about the conversion of Scandinavia and Viking settlements), on the whole I love the author's style, his penchant for witty comments, and his eye for humor in his material. Seldom has a book on the early Middle Ages made me laugh out loud as much as this one. It's the details--a woman's garment that shows the adoption of Byzantine necklace fashions, the Greenlander who purchases a bishop for his fledgling settlement with a live polar bear--that bring history to life, and this book is full of them. Never forgetting the complexities of his material, and often showing that the line between Christians and pagans was never firm, Fletcher illuminates an often obscure story.
I also want to add that this book provides the best overview of the situation of the Jews in Europe during the early Middle Ages that I have ever seen (and I have been looking). Most authors begin with the persecutions of 1096 and only toss off a line about the tolerance that marked the first 500 years of the Middle Ages; Fletcher actually examines the tensions and accomodations during those centuries, and his account has thoroughly persuaded me that looking at the fluidity between Judaism and Christianity casts a needed light on the larger characters of both religions at that moment in history.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
I bought this book hoping that I would be able to find out what it was the Barbarians were being converted *from*. But as the author states over and over again : we simply do not know what they believed in. The author gives a few hints as to what Pagan beliefs might have been, but can't do much else. There is no pagan philosophy to be had.
So, it took me a while took get over that little disappointment.

But when I stopped waiting for some non-existant explanation of pre-Christian beliefs, I found that this is actually quite a good book. Many other people have already described the main themes, so I won't bother. But one thing I will say, is that the book covers a huge amount of ground and is a very good overview of a little-know period in Church history.
I would recommend reading this right after "Who wrote the New Testament" That book leaves off in about 400 after the solid foundation of the Christian Church proper had been established and Fletcher's book begins just as Christianity has taken a firm hold in Rome. The two back to back give a thorough history of the early church as a political, military, and diplomatic institution, rather than some mystical brotherhood.
Yeah, it's a little dense in places, but it's still worth it.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Harper on January 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
An authoritative account of how Christianity made the leap from the disintegrating Roman Empire to the "barbarian" tribes that toppled it -- largely by selling itself as part of the package deal of Roman civilization. Fletcher gives accounts, sometimes amusing, sometimes harrowing, of how Christian missionaries won over the kings and warlords and worried about the common folk later. Amid the stories of sacred groves hacked down and idols burned are many more ambivalent cases where a pagan custom or shrine was simply given a Christian paint job. Fletcher also knows how to find the little details that open up big pictures. Such as the Northumbrian Priests' Law, a code of conduct attributed to Archbishop Wulfstan of York (1000-1023) that laid down four rules for the Anglo-Saxon men of God: Clergy must shave regularly, must not bring their weapons to church, must try to keep out of fights, and must not perform as "ale minstrels."
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By B. mccoy on January 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Richard Fletcher has written an exceptional work here. From the moment you open it several things are clear. Firstly, Mr. Fletcher speaks with obvious authority and knows the subject extremely well. He speaks about the most obscure characters and texts with striking familiarity. It is also apparent that he is a well read, high brow European and his writing is sometimes awkward to the American ear. Perhaps Fletcher's greatest acheivement is piecing together a comprehensive history from a time in which very little was recorded and preserved. He never gives too much weight to a particular source document, always weighing an author's account against any biases or hidden agendas.
The conversion of just about every group in western Europe is covered in detail and Fletcher gives us a well rounded chronicle of religious conversion on both the personal and societal level. He also never fails to iterate any or all of the reasons why an individual or people might convert.
Fletcher can be accused of going into too much detail at times. The chapters tend flow in biographies from one obscure monk to another with very little overview in between. This makes for difficult reading in the middle chapters. However, given the lack of published materials on the subject, this error can be overlooked.
Stellar research, recommended reading for any scholar of religious change or of the early middle ages.
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