He studied philosophy and theology at the seminary of Mechelen (Belgium) and became a priest in 1949. He earned a master's degree in political and social sciences at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). He earned a degree at the International Superior Institute of Urbanism (Brussels, Belgium). He earned a PhD in sociology from the Catholic University of Louvain UCL.
His doctoral thesis was based on sociology of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and he was a professor at UCL (there) from 1958 till 1990. He is an author and co-author of numerous publications on socio-religious matters. He served as the chief editor of the International Journal of Sociology of Religion, "Social Compass" for forty years(1960–1999). He also has advised international catholic journalConcilium which was founded at the Nijmegen University, on the issues of sociology of religion.
He participated as a peritus expert in the sessions of Vatican II (1962–1965) playing a key role in the formation of the introduction of the Gaudium et spes. Houtart, over the years, has developed a dialectical approach to study religions in the world.
Today he serves as an advisor to CETRI (Centre Tricontinental) a Belgian non-governmental organization which he founded in 1976. Objective of CETRI is to promote dialogue and corporation between third world social movements and social forces plus encourage resistance and action. Houtart is one of the most active members of the World Social Forum. Today he is very much active in the Globalisation and Ethics discourse.
In the context of the global financial crisis in 2008, Houtart has been invited by the UN to address the issues of globalisation of capital in October 2008 by the president of the UN in New York.
In 2009, Houtart was awarded the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence "for his lifelong commitment to world peace, intercultural dialogue, human rights and the promotion of tolerance, and in recognition of his outstanding efforts to advance the cause of social justice in the world. He shared the award with Pakistani philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi.
In 2009, Houtart signed the Appeal for the removal of Hamas from the EU terror list  and he became very instrumental in the Russels Tribunal against the state of Israel.
In 2010, a female cousin of Houtart filed an anonymous complaint to the Adriaenssens commission that her brother was sexually abused by Houtart, while he stayed at their house. The priest admits having inappropriately touched his cousin twice around 1970
Center Tricontinental (CETRI)
International Association of Sociology of Religion,
World Forum for Alternatives
- The Church and Revolution: from the French Revolution of 1789 to the Paris riots of 1968, from Cuba to Southern Africa, from Vietnam to Latin America, by François Houtart and André Rousseau. Translated by Violet Nevile (1971)
- Religions and ideology in Sri Lanka, Colombo, Hansa, (1974)
- El campesino como actor, Managua, Ed. Nicarao, (1982)
- Religion et modes de production précapitalistes, Bruxelles, editions de l'ULB, (1992)
- Sociología de la Religión, Mexico, Plaza y Valdés, (2000)
- Mondialisation des Résistances (with Samir Amin), Paris, L'Harmattan, (2002)
- Haïti et la culture dans une commune vietnamienne, Paris, Les Indes Savantes, (2004)
- "UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence (2009)" (PDF). UNESCO. 2009.
- UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize – Laureates
- Appeal for the removal of Hamas from the EU terror list
- Kanunnik Houtart erkent misbruik neefje
- Le chanoine Houtart avoue des abus sexuels
- Nobel Peace Prize candidate Belgian priest admits child abuse 40 years ago