Honorary doctorate conferred on renowned missiologist

Posted on May 04, 2016

The Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria (UP) conferred an honorary doctorate on Prof Theo Sundermeier during its recent autumn graduation ceremony.

Prof Sundermeier completed his PhD at Heidelberg University in Germany. He had a fruitful academic career, including as a lecturer at theological colleges in Namibia and South Africa (1964–1975), and as a professor in the Theology of History of Religion at Bochum University (1975–1983) and in the Science of Religion and Missiology at Heidelberg University (1983–2000), from where he retired. He has presented guest lectures in Europe, Africa and Asia.

He is a renowned missiologist and scientist of religion who contributed to the knowledge in his fields of expertise by investigating traditional African religions. His contributions were mainly based on his practical experience as a missionary and scholar in southern Africa.

He was a member of the International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) and the Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftliche Theologie, and an honorary member of the Association Francophone Oecuménique.

He played a significant role in church matters. He served as chairperson of the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Missionswissenschaft (1990–2004) and of the Kirchlichen Entwicklungsdienst of the Evangelical Church in Germany (1976–1987).

The Faculty of Theology at UP is one of the few faculties where the Science of Religion and Missiology are grouped together in one department. The responsible way in which Prof Sundermeier managed these two disciplines illustrate his academic capabilities and contributed to shaping the way in which religions engage today. In the postmodern era of religious diversity, religious engagement is an important outcome.

Through his model of convivence he has shown how religions can learn from and support one another, and even celebrate together. This paved the way for peaceful and tolerant relations among religions and contributed to developing a sense of community – an important lesson for our diverse South African society.

Prof Sundermeier’s prolific publication record has extended his influence on academics internationally. His academic oeuvre includes more than 20 titles of which he was either the sole author or the editor. Over the years he has served as editor, co-editor or chairperson of the editorial boards of a range of journals.

His areas of interest include the theology of missiology, the theology of religions, intercultural studies and religious art.

Now formally retired from academia, Prof Sundermeier remains an energetic scholar and researcher.


- Author Faculty of Theology

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