May 31, 1919 |
|Occupation||Author and Professor of Religion|
|Known for||Author of The World's Religions|
Huston Cummings Smith (born May 31, 1919) is a religious studies scholar in the United States. His book The World's Religions (originally titled The Religions of Man) has sold over two million copies and remains a popular introduction to comparative religion.
Smith was born in China to Methodist missionaries and spent his first 17 years there. Upon coming to the U.S. for education, he studied at Central Methodist University and the University of Chicago.
He taught at the University of Denver from 1944 to 1947; then at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri for the next ten years. He was then appointed professor and chair of the philosophy department at MIT from 1958 to 1973. While there, he participated in experiments with psychedelics that professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass) 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 was visiting professor of religious studies.
During his career, Smith not only studied, but practiced Vedanta (studying under Swami Satprakashananda, founder of the St. Louis Vedanta Center), Zen Buddhism (studying under Goto Zuigan), and Sufi Islam for more than ten years each.
As a young man, he suddenly turned from traditional Methodist Christianity to mysticism, influenced by 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 Trabuco Canyon, Southern California. Heard made arrangements to have Smith meet the legendary author Aldous Huxley. Smith recounts in the 2010 documentary "Huxley on Huxley" meeting the great visionary at his desert home. 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. Smith developed an interest in the Traditionalist School formulated by René Guénon and Ananda Coomaraswamy. This interest has become a continuing thread in all his writings.
Thanks to his connection with Heard and Huxley, Smith went on to meet Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), and others at the Center for Personality Research, where Leary was Research Professor. The group began experimenting with psychedelics and what Smith later called "empirical metaphysics." The experience and history of the group are described in Smith's book Cleansing the Doors of Perception. During this period, Smith was also part of the Harvard Project, an attempt to raise spiritual awareness through entheogenic plants. During his tenure at Syracuse University, he was informed by leaders of the Onondaga tribe about the Native American religious traditions and practices, which resulted in an additional chapter in his book on the world's religions. In 1990 the Supreme Court ruled that the use of Peyote as a religious sacrament by Native Americans was not protected under the US Constitution. Smith took up the cause, as a noted religion scholar and, with his help in 1994, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendment, basically overturning the Supreme Court's decision.
Smith is a practicing Christian who credits his faith to his missionary parents who had "instilled in me a Christianity that was able to withstand the dominating secular culture of modernity."
- The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, 1958, rev. ed. 1991, HarperOne, ISBN 0-06-250811-3
- Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions, 1976, reprint ed. 1992, HarperOne, ISBN 0-06-250787-7
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Islam: A Concise Introduction, HarperOne, 2001, ISBN 0-06-166018-3
- 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
- The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition, 2005, HarperOne, 1st ed. ISBN 0-06-079478-X
- 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.
- And Live Rejoicing: Chapters from a Charmed Life — Personal Encounters with Spiritual Mavericks, Remarkable Seekers, and the World's Great Religious Leaders, 2012, With contributions from Phil Cousineau
Television and film
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.
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 - distributed by mondayMEDIA, DVD
- Death and Transformation: The Personal Reflections of Huston Smith, 2007, Fons Vitae, DVD
- The Arc of Life: Huston Smith on Life, Death & Beyond, 2012, GemsTone - distributed by mondayMEDIA, DVD
In 1967, while traveling in India, Smith stayed in a Gyuto Tibetan Buddhist monastery. During his visit he heard the monks chanting and realized that each monk was producing a chord of notes, rather than a single note. He recorded the chanting and when he returned to MIT, he had acoustic engineers analyze the sounds. They confirmed the finding. Smith has called this the single most important empirical discovery of his career. The recording was released as an LP titled Music of Tibet, and later through an agreement with mondayMEDIA, released on CD. Royalties from the sales go to support the Gyuto University.
For his lifelong 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.
Smith was named to be one of the first recipients of the Order of Universal Interfaith and Universal Order of Sannyasa's "Interfaith-Interspiritual Sage Award" in January 2010. He received the award at his home on February 23, 2010.
"If we take the world's enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race."
"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."
"The goal of spiritual life is not altered states, but altered traits.":97
- review of PBS Bill Moyers interview of Huston Smith
- Bill, Williams (July 27, 2009). "Religion scholar stresses events over emotions". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-08-06.
- Smith, Huston 2001 Why Religion Matters. Harper-Collins: San Francisco.
- "Huxley on Huxley.". Dir. Mary Ann Braubach. Cinedigm, 2010. DVD.
- "Description by Smith of meeting Heard". Geraldheard.com. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Ralph Metzner (2005-04-18). "The Ecstatic Adventure – Chapter 5". Psychedelic-library.org. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Review of One Nation Under God
- Smith, Huston.(2005) The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. "Acknowledgments" p.167. ISBN 978-0-06-079478-1.
- "Browse Books at HarperCollins Publishers". Harpercollins.com. 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Smith, Huston. "Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions by Huston Smith". Harpercollins.com. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Smith, Huston. "The Illustrated World's Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions by Huston Smith". Harpercollins.com. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- "Council on Spiritual Practices – Cleansing the Doors of Perception". Csp.org. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Smith, Huston. "Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief by Huston Smith". Harpercollins.com. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Smith, Huston. "Islam: A Concise Introduction by Huston Smith". Harpercollins.com. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Smith, Huston; Philip Novak. "Buddhism: A Concise Introduction". Harpercollins.com. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Smith, Huston. "The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition by Huston Smith". Harpercollins.com. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- "Biography of Smith". Harpercollins.com. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Official Website
- Huston Smith telling story of recording on YouTube
- Allmusic.com listing
- NPR story of recording and MIT analysis
- Official Website of Recording
- "The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Recipients List". Peaceabbey.org. 2005-11-20. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- "OUnI Ordination and Sage Award". Ouni.org. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Sinclair Community College
- Mother Jones, November/December 1997.
- Huston Smith (2003/1992). "Encountering God". In Huston Smith, Phil Cousineau (2003). The Way Things Are: Conversations With Huston Smith on the Spiritual Life. University of California Press. ISBN 0520238168, ISBN 9780520238169
- Huston Smith official website
- Works by or about Huston Smith in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Huston Smith at the Internet Movie Database