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Scholarship, Subtext, Submission, and Mission: Reintroducing Paul Olav Bodding

Tone Bleie


The Santal Mission began as a Baptist home mission in tribal British India in the late 1860s and went through several name changes. It developed into a transatlantic, Lutheran, enlightenment-oriented, pastoral movement in the late pioneer era (1880s-1890s) with ardent supporters in India, England, Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and America. Under the stewardship of most notably, the co-founders Lars Skrefsrud and Hans P. and Caroline Børresen, the Mission and a budding Santal church constituted, for a period, a dynamic religious and social mass-movement. Skrefsrud handed over vast literary responsibilities to the gifted theologian Paul Olav Bodding, while serving as a district missionary. Based on social science insights, the paper discusses the scholar-missionary Bodding’s importance in this Mission, academically and for the Santals he lived amongst for more than four decades. In 1910, Bodding succeeded Skrefsrud and was tasked to modernize, democratize and streamline a largely homegrown movement into a conventional Lutheran missionary society. This article reveals some of the lesser known aspects of Bodding’s turbulent life history. Fom a sheltered childhood to young missionary, early scholarly renown, Bodding went on to a head highly profiled missionary organization while facing unreasonable treatment, personal tragedies and unexpected conjugal fulfillment. His posthumous public reputation was divided between a deafening silence and omission in the Mission’s own history books until the early 1990s and increasing public recognition in India. After Independence, his literary legacy became a source of outright public cultivation. “Bodding Sahib”, as he was called in India, became gradually a cultural hero. This article attempts to analyze the underlying institutional, theological and cultural reasons for the strange silence and the eventual rediscovery of the man.

Search terms/Søkeord: Bodding – scholar – missionary – cultural hero – Santalmission


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