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Huston Cummings Smith (born May 31, 1919 in Suzhou, China) is a religious studies scholar in the United States. His book The World's Religions (originally titled The Religions of Man) remains a popular introduction to comparative religion.[1]

EducationEdit

Smith was born in China to Methodist missionaries and spent his first 17 years there.

TeachingEdit

He taught at the Universities of Colorado in Boulder and Denver from 1944–1947, moving to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri for the next ten years, and then Professor of Philosophy at MIT from 1958–1973. While at MIT he participated in some of the experiments with entheogens that professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert conducted at Harvard University. He then moved to Syracuse University where he was Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Philosophy until his retirement in 1983 and current emeritus status. At University of California, Berkeley he is Visiting Professor of Religious Studies.

Religious practiceEdit

During his career, Smith not only studied, but practiced Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism (studying under Goto Zuigan), and Sufism for over ten years each. He is a notable autodidact.

As a young man, he suddenly turned from traditional Methodist Christianity to mysticism by the influence of the writings of Gerald Heard and Aldous Huxley. In 1947, before moving from Denver to St. Louis, Smith set out to meet with then-famous author Gerald Heard. Heard responded to Smith's letter, inviting him to his Trabuco College (later donated as the Ramakrishna Monastery) in Southern California. Heard make arrangements to have Smith meet the legendary author Aldous Huxley. Smith was told to look up Swami Satprakashananda of the Vedanta Society once he settled in St. Louis. So began Smith's experimentation with meditation and association with the Vedanta Society of the Ramakrishna order.[2]

Smith developed an interest in the Traditionalist School formulated by Rene Guenon and Ananda Coomaraswamy. This interest has become a continuing thread in all his writings.

BooksEdit

Via the connection with Heard and Huxley, Smith eventually experimented with Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert Ram Dass, and others at the Center for Personality Research, of which Leary was Research Professor. The experience and history of the era are captured somewhat in Smith's book Cleansing the Doors of Perception. In this period, Smith joined in on the Harvard Project as well, an attempt to raise spiritual awareness through entheogenic plants.

  • The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, 1958, rev. ed. 1991, HarperOne, ISBN 0-06-250811-3[3]
  • Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions, 1976, reprint ed. 1992, HarperOne, ISBN 0-06-250787-7[4]
  • Beyond the Postmodern Mind, 1982, reprint ed. 1989, Quest Books, ISBN 0-8356-0647-3
  • The Illustrated World's Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions ,1995, HarperOne, ISBN 0-06-067440-7[5]
  • Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals, 2000, Tarcher/Putnam, ISBN 1-58542-034-4, Council on Spiritual Practices, ISBN 1-889725-03-X, Sentient Publications, ISBN 1-59181-008-6[6]
  • Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief, 2001, HarperOne, 1st ed.:ISBN 0-06-067099-1, reprint 2002: ISBN 0-06-067102-5[7]
  • The Way Things Are: Conversations with Huston Smith on the Spiritual Life, 2003, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-23816-8 (cloth); ISBN 0-520-24489-3 (paper) Edited and with a Preface by Phil Cousineau
  • Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, with Philip Novak, HarperOne, 2004, ISBN 0-06-073067-6[8]
  • The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition, 2005, HarperOne, 1st ed. ISBN 0-06-079478-X[9]
  • A Seat at the Table: Huston Smith in Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom, 2006, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-24439-7 (cloth) Edited and with a Preface by Phil Cousineau With Assistance from Gary Rhine
  • Tales of Wonder, an autobiographical review of his life and associations.

Television and filmEdit

While at Washington University, Smith was the host of two National Educational Television series (NET - the forerunner of PBS): The Religions of Man and Search for America.[10]

In 1996, Bill Moyers devoted a 5-part PBS special to Smith's life and work, "The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith". Smith has produced three series for public television: "The Religions of Man", "The Search for America", and (with Arthur Compton) "Science and Human Responsibility". His films on Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Sufism have all won awards at international film festivals.

  • The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith: A Bill Moyers Special: A Personal Philosophy, 1996, PBS, DVD
  • The Roots of Fundamentalism: A Conversation with Huston Smith and Phil Cousineau, 2006, GemsTone, DVD
  • Death and Transformation: The Personal Reflections of Huston Smith, 2007, Fons Vitae, DVD

AwardsEdit

For his life long commitment to bringing the world’s religions together to promote understanding, social justice and peace, Smith received the Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts.[11]

QuotesEdit

"Institutions are not pretty. Show me a pretty government. Healing is wonderful, but the American Medical Association? Learning is wonderful, but universities? The same is true for religion... religion is institutionalized spirituality."[12]

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit

tr:Huston Smith

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