The Icelandic Lutheran Synod of America and its missionary in Japan, 1916–1941:

Steingrímur Octavius Thorlakson


  • Kristín Ingvarsdóttir



The Icelandic Lutheran Synod of America, Christian missions, Japan, Icelanders in North America, Steingrímur Octavius Thorlakson


In 1910, despite low membership and limited funds, the Icelandic Lutheran Synod of America began directly supporting mission work in Asia. It first sponsored a Danish missionary who was serving in India and later commissioned one of its own members, Steingrímur Octavius Thorlakson (1890–1977), to carry out missionary work in Japan, where he ended up serving for 25 years, from 1916 to 1941. Although the synod’s Asia initiative was well known within the Icelandic community, as was Octavius himself during his lifetime, the venture has not become a substantial chapter of the history of Icelanders in North America. The aim of this article is twofold: first, to shed light on the background and nature of the Icelandic Synod’s missionary enterprise in Asia, and second, to examine the initiative and Octavius’ career from the perspective of mobility and international influences in the early 20th century.

En 1910, malgré un faible effectif et des fonds limités, le synode luthérien islandais d’Amérique (Icelandic Lutheran Synod of America) entreprit de soutenir directement le travail missionnaire en Asie. Parrainant d’abord un missionnaire danois qui servait en Inde, le synode envoya ensuite comme missionnaire au Japon un de ses propres membres, Steingrímur Octavius Thorlakson (1890–1977), qui servit pendant 25 ans, de 1916 à 1941. Bien que le projet asiatique du synode était bien connu dans la communauté islandaise, tout comme l’était Octavius lui-même de son vivant, cette entreprise n’est pourtant pas devenue un chapitre important de l’histoire des Islandais en Amérique du Nord. Cet article a deux buts: d’abord, éclairer le contexte et la nature du projet missionnaire du synode islandais en Asie, et ensuite, examiner ce projet et la carrière d’Octavius du point de vue de la mobilité et des influences internationales du début du XXème siècle.

Author Biography

Kristín Ingvarsdóttir

Kristín Ingvarsdóttir completed her Ph.D. in Social Sciences from Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo in 2006 and a Master’s Degree from the same university in 2002. Kristín joined the University of Iceland as Assistant Professor of Contemporary Japanese Studies in 2019. Her research interests include the history of Icelandic-Japanese relations and Japan’s policies on the Arctic, as well as other aspects of Japan’s foreign policy.




How to Cite

Ingvarsdóttir, K. (2022). The Icelandic Lutheran Synod of America and its missionary in Japan, 1916–1941: : Steingrímur Octavius Thorlakson. Scandinavian-Canadian Studies, 29, 1–26.