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Customer Review

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and innovative study of Germanic religiosity, September 1, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation (Hardcover)
Scholar James Russell has given us an important work with this detailed study. Subtitled "A sociohistorical approach to religious transformation," it is an exceedingly well-researched and documented analysis of the conversion of the Germanic tribes to the imported and fundamentally alien religion of Christianity during the period of 376-754 of the Common Era. Russell's work is all the more dynamic as he does not limit his inquiry simply to one field of study, but rather utilizes insights from sources as varied as modern sociobiological understanding of kinship behaviors, theological models on the nature of religious conversion, and comparative Indo-European religious research. Dexterously culling relevant evidence from such disparate disciplines, he then interprets a vast array of documentary material from the period of European history in question. The end result is a convincing book that offers a wealth of food for thought-not just in regards to historical conceptions of the past, but with far-reaching implications which relate directly to the tide of spiritual malaise currently at a high water mark in the collective European psyche. The first half of Russell's work provides an in-depth examination of various aspects of conversion, Christianization and Germanization, allowing him to arrive at a functional definition of religious transformation which he then applies to the more straightforward historical research material in the latter sections of the book. Along the way he presents a lucid exploration of ancient Germanic religiosity and social structure, placed appropriately in the wider context of a much older Indo-European religious tradition. Russell completes the study by tracing the parallel events of Germanization and Christianization in the central European tribal territories. He marshals a convincing array of historical, linguistic and other evidence to demonstrate his major thesis, asserting that during the process of the large European conversions Christianity was significantly "Germanicized" as a consequence of its adoption by the tribal peoples, while at the same time the latter were often "Christianized" only in a quite perfunctory and tenuous sense. Contrary to simplistic models put forth by some past historians, this book illustrates that conversion was not any sort of linear "one-way street"; a testament to the fundamental power of indigenous Indo-European and Germanic religiosity lies in the evidence that it was never fully or substantially eradicated by the faith which succeeded it. As Russell shows, a more accurate scenario was that of native spirituality and folk-tradition sublimated into a Christian framework, which in this altered form then became the predominant spiritual system for Europe. Russell's Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity is wide-ranging yet commanding in its contentions, and academia could do well with encouraging more scholars of this calibre and fortitude who are able to avoid the pitfall of over-specialization and produce works of great scope and lasting relevance. Make no doubt about it, this is a demanding and complex book, but for those willing to invest the effort, the benefits of understanding its content will be amply rewarding, and of imperative relevance for anyone who wishes to apprehend the past, present and future of genuine European religiosity.
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