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Åke Hultkrantz

Professor of Comparative Religion, University of Stockholm
1920 to 2006

As with all anthropologists, Åke Hultkrantz was objective in researching his subjects. What made him stand out though was the deep respect he had for the Saami, the Shoshone and the Arapaho with whom he interacted—so much respect that he was adopted by the Shoshone medicine man John Trehero.

Hultkrantz was born in Kalmar Sweden in 1920 and went on to study comparative religion ethnology and history at the University of Stockholm in 1939. After graduating in 1943 he continued studying ethnology receiving a PhD in 1946. He was awarded a second PhD in comparative religion in 1953 (and an honorary doctorate of theology from the University of Helsinki in 1997). In 1953 he began teaching at the University of Stockholm remaining there until his retirement. His career spanned appointments as senior lecturer professor of comparative religion director of the Institute of Comparative Religion and professor emeritus in 1986.

Already as a graduate student Hultkrantz began making contacts with indigenous peoples: he carried out fieldwork among the Saami in 1944 and 1946. His great love proved to be Native Americans. From 1948 to 1990 he repeatedly lived and conducted research among the Shoshone of Wyoming and Idaho the Arapaho of the Northern Plains and the Native American tribes of California. He was adopted by the Shoshone in 1948.

As his work became known Hultkrantz began to travel. Beginning in 1958 he was a visiting professor at Brandeis University in Boston, at the University of California at Santa Barbara from 1973 to 1990, the University of Montana in the late 1970s, Budapest (1970), Vienna (1973), Aberdeen (1976), as well as other universities in England Germany Sweden and Finland. In 1981–1982 he was invited to give the Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen. In addition, he participated in numerous conferences on religion anthropology and social science. For example he attended congresses of Americanists since 1956 and of the Association of the History of Religion since 1970; he was chosen president of the conference on Shamanism in Budapest in 1993.

Hultkrantz’s corpus includes the publication of some four hundred papers and twenty-five books in ethnology comparative religion and folklore. He was the editor of numerous works and co-editor of many Scandinavian and American journals. Along with his interest in the religions of Native Americans and circumpolar religions in general Hultkrantz’s specialty was also his methodology.

Åke Hultkrantz died in 2006 and is survived by his wife Geraldine Hultkrantz, who assisted in his publications.


*Information from Shaman vol. 14 (2006) and from an interview with his wife.

  • David Kahan, University of Glasgow