Sundkler, Bengt Gustav Malcom

South Africa , Tanzania

Bengt G. M. Sundkler Bengt Sundkler was a missionary to South and East Africa, historian, ecumenist, and missiologist. Sundkler was born in the north of Sweden and educated at the University of Uppsala, where as an undergraduate he came under the influence of Nathan Söderblom. He was ordained in 1936 and completed his doctorate in 1937 with a dissertation on the missionary movement in nineteenth-century Sweden. He served as a Lutheran missionary in South Africa from 1937 to 1942. and in Tanzania from 1942 to 1945, acquiring meticulous knowledge of Zulu and Swahili and a vast body of information having especially to do with South African Independent Churches. He returned to Uppsala in 1945, and after a year as study secretary of the International Missionary Council, succeeded K B. Westman in 1949 as professor of church history (with the history of mission) in the University of Uppsala, which post he occupied until his retirement in 1974. From 1961 to 1964 he served simultaneously as Lutheran bishop in Bukoba, Tanzania (delighting in signing himself Bengt Bukoba), and as a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (1961-1965). Of his many books, special importance attaches to Bantu Prophets in South Africa (1948), Church of South India 1940-1947 (1954), The Christian Ministry in Africa (1960), and Nathan Söderblom, His Life and Work (1968). His magnum opus, a history of Christianity in Africa, largely completed at the time of his death, is yet to be published. Bengt Sundkler’s contribution to world mission as missionary, Africanist, scholar, and writer, and as an academic missiologist and supervisor of graduate research, is practically without parallel in postwar history.

Eric J. Sharpe


There are two Sundkler Festschriften:

  • Peter Beyerhaus and Carl E Hallencreutz, eds., The Church Crossing Frontiers (1969).
  • Carl F. Hallencreutz, ed. “Daring in Order to Know”: Studies in Bengt Sundkler’s Contribution as Africanist and Missionary Scholar (1984).

Both contain bibliographies, though the second is the more informative on the personal level.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.