What do our myths say about us? Why do we choose to believe stories that have been disproven by science? In Myths of the...

What do our myths say about us? Why do we choose to believe stories that have been disproven by science? In Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), David M. Krueger takes an in-depth look at a legend that held tremendous power in one corner of Minnesota, helping to define a community’s identity for decades. In 1898, a Swedish immigrant farmer claimed to have discovered a large rock with writing carved into its surface in a field near Kensington, Minnesota. The writing was interpreted to tell a North American origin story, predating Christopher Columbus’ exploration, in which Viking missionaries reached what is now Minnesota in 1362 only to be massacred by Native Americans. The tales credibility and the inscription’s authenticity was quickly challenged and ultimately undermined by experts, but the myth took hold. Popular faith in the dubious artifact emerged as a local expression of American civil religion, which appealed to Scandinavian immigrants, Catholics, small town boosters and those looking to commemorate the white settlers who died in the Dakota War of 1862.

This book is a case study of how myths are created, propagated, and adapted over time and reveals something unique about America’s preoccupation with divine right and its troubled way of coming to terms with the history of the continent’s first residents. The multiple narratives around the stone would be effective in a variety of classroom settings and you can find resources for using the book in the classroom on the book’s website https://mythsoftherunestone.com. In our conversation we discussed myth, small town life and Minnesotan civic identity, martyrdom, secularization, the Cold War, Vikings, Marion devotion, Native Americans, Christian identity in Minnesota, American civil religion, and the multiple venues for using the book in the classroom.


Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. His research and teaching interests include Theory and Methodology in the Study of Religion, Islamic Studies, Chinese Religions, Human Rights, and Media Studies. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at kjpetersen@unomaha.edu.

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