Macdonald, Duncan Black (1863-1943)

Pioneer of Arabic and Islamic studies in the United States

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, and educated at Glasgow University, Macdonald studied Semitic languages in Berlin prior to his appointment as professor of Semitic languages in Hartford Theological Seminary (1892). In addition to his initial teaching of Hebrew language and scriptures, he taught Arabic and Islamic studies. Visiting Cairo in 1907 and 1908, he was shocked by the lack of understanding of Muslim life and culture that he encountered among missionaries. He urged the Hartford Seminary Foundation to redress this deficiency. Following the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference, Hartford inaugurated its Kennedy School of Missions (1911). Macdonald was appointed head of the Islamics department and played a major role in the development of the school, including its unique field-based Ph.D. degree program. With missionaries on furlough he worked on the textual study of Islamic religious classics; through correspondence he guided missionaries in the field in the contextual study of Muslim life and culture. He exemplified his approach in his own writings on Islamic religion and in his lifelong study of the Arabian Nights, in which he found a mine of information about traditional Muslim culture. Many of his doctoral students produced distinguished works of scholarship, especially annotated translations of Islamic religious works in Arabic. He aimed to cultivate a love of Islam in the hearts of missionaries, as well as an understanding of elements of Muslim faith and practice to which they could relate the biblical message. Without diminishing doctrinal differences, he urged Christians to cultivate spiritual friendship with Muslims in shared witness against the moral decadence of secular materialism. He retired in 1932 and devoted his remaining years to writing on Hebrew religion.

David A Kerr, “Macdonald, Duncan Black,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 421.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.



Macdonald, Duncan Black. The Arabic and Turkish Manuscripts in the Newbury Library. 1912.

_____. Development of Muslim Theology, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Theory. 1903.

_____. Hebrew Philosophical Genius: A Vindication. 1936.

_____. Religious Attitude and Life of Islam. 1909.


Macdonald, Duncan Black. Aspects of Islam. 1911

_____. Hebrew Literary Genius: An Interpretation, Being in Introduction to the Old Testament. 1933.