Huston Smith

Huston Smith

Huston Cummings Smith (born May 31, 1919) is among the preeminent religious studies scholars in the United States. His work, "The Religions of Man" (later revised and retitled "The World's Religions"), is a classic in the field, with over two million copies sold, and remains a common introduction to comparative religion.


Smith was born in Soochow, China to Methodist missionaries and spent his first 17 years there. He taught at the Universities of Colorado 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 professor Timothy Leary 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. He now lives in the Berkeley, CA area where he is Visiting Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

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, of his own volition after suddenly turning to mysticism, Smith set out to meet with then-famous author Gerald Heard. Heard responded to Smith's letter, invited him to his Trabuco College (later donated as the Ramakrishna Monastery) in Southern California, and then sent him off to meet the legendary Aldous Huxley. So began Smith's experimentation with meditation and association with the Vedanta Society in Saint Louis under the auspices of Swami Satprakashananda of the Ramakrishna order.

Via the connection with Heard and Huxley, Smith eventually experimented with Timothy Leary 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.

He has been a friend of the XIVth Dalai Lama for more than forty years and met and talked to some of the great figures of the century, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Thomas Merton.

He 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.

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.

His latest DVD release is The Roots of Fundamentalism - A Conversation with Huston Smith and Phil Cousineau.


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 [] .


* "The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions", 1958, rev. ed. 1991, Harper SanFrancisco, ISBN 0-06-250811-3
* "Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions", 1976, reprint ed. 1992, Harper SanFrancisco, 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,Harper Collins,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, Harper San Francisco, 1st ed.:ISBN 0-06-067099-1, reprint 2002: ISBN 0-06-067102-5
*"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)
*"Buddhism: A Concise Introduction", with Philip Novak, HarperSanFrancisco, 2004, ISBN 0-06-073067-6
*"The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition", 2005, HarperSanFrancisco, 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)


"Religiously conceived, the human opportunity is to transform flashes of illumination into abiding light."

"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." — "Mother Jones" November/December 1997.

External links

* [ Huston Smith] homepage
* [ Interview in "Mother Jones"] magazine
* [ Interview transcript] from "Thinking Allowed" PBS television program
* [ Video interview on Google Video]
* [ Some mp3 files of a talk about Gnosticism]
* [ Critical review of "Why Religion Matters"]
* [ LibraryThing author profile]
* [ Interview with Robert Wright]
* [ The Peace Abbey]

NAME = Smith, Huston Cummings
SHORT DESCRIPTION = Religious studies scholar
DATE OF BIRTH = May 31, 1919
PLACE OF BIRTH = Suzhou, China

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