Huston Cummings Smith
|Died||December 30, 2016 97) (aged|
|Known for||Author of The World's Religions|
|Alma mater|| Central Methodist University (B.A) |
University of Chicago (PhD)
|Institutions|| University of Denver |
Washington University in St. Louis
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of California, Berkeley
Huston Cummings Smith (May 31, 1919 – December 30, 2016) was a leading scholar of religious studies in the United States.He was widely regarded as one of the world's most influential figures in religious studies. He had authored at least thirteen books on world's religions and philosophy, and his book The World's Religions (originally titled The Religions of Man) sold over three million copies as of 2017 and remains a popular introduction to comparative religion.
Born and raised in Suzhou, China in a Methodist missionary family, Huston Smith moved back to the United States at the age of 17 and graduated from the University of Chicago in 1945 with a PhD in philosophy.He spent the majority of his academic career as a professor at Washington University in St. Louis (1947-1958), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1958-1973) and Syracuse University (1973-1983). In 1983, he retired from Syracuse and moved to Berkeley, California, where he was a visiting professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Berkeley until his death.
On May 31, 1919, Huston Cummings Smith was born in Dzang Zok, Suzhou, China to Methodist missionaries and spent his first 17 years there. His first language was Mandarin Chinese, spoken with Suzhou dialect.
Upon coming to the United States for education, he studied at Central Methodist University, graduating with B.A in 1940, and at the University of Chicago, graduating with PhD in philosophy in 1945.
At Chicago, he married Eleanor Wieman, the daughter of Henry Nelson Wieman, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School.She later changed her name to Kendra. They had three daughters, Karen, Gael, and Kimberly Smith.
Smith taught at the University of Denver from 1945 to 1947, and then at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri for the next 10 years.
In 1958, Smith was appointed professor of the philosophy department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he stayed until 1973.While there, he participated in experiments with psychedelics that professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert conducted at Harvard University. In 1964, during a trip to India, Smith stayed in a Gyuto Tibetan Buddhist monastery. During his visit he heard the monks chanting and realized that each individual was producing a chord, composed of a fundamental note and overtones. He returned to record the chanting in 1967 and asked acoustic engineers at MIT analyze the sound. They confirmed the finding, which is an example of overtone singing. Smith has called this the singular empirical discovery of his career. The recording was released as an LP titled Music of Tibet, and later released on CD. Royalties from the sales go to support the Gyuto Tantric University. Because of his involvement in religions, however, Smith received mistrust from his colleagues and MIT prohibited him from teaching graduate students.
In 1973, Smith 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 emeritus status.
In 1983, Smith moved to Berkeley, California, and became a visiting professor of Religious Studies at University of California, Berkeley until his death.
During his career, Smith intensely studied Vedanta (studying under Swami Satprakashananda, founder of the St. Louis Vedanta Center), Zen Buddhism (studying under Goto Zuigan), and Sufism of Islam for more than ten years each.
As a young man, Smith 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 prominent author Aldous Huxley, a highly respected novelist and commentator on modern society. Smith recounts in the 2010 documentary Huxley on Huxley meeting Huxley 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, Frithjof Schuon and Ananda Coomaraswamy. This interest became a continuing thread in all his writings.
Due 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. With his help in 1994, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act amendment, providing legislative protection to a religious practice that the Supreme Court had decided lacks constitutional protection.
Smith was a practicing Christian who credited his faith to his missionary parents who had "instilled in me a Christianity that was able to withstand the dominating secular culture of modernity."
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.
Throughout his career, Smith made himself available to the communities where he resided. Toward the end of his life, while living in Berkeley, California, he participated in the Pacific Coast Theological Society at the Graduate Theological Union. He also attended local churches, including Trinity United Methodist, First Congregational Church, and Epworth United Methodist. On the occasion of publishing Tales of Wonder, in 2009 he co-convened "community conversations" at Epworth, during which he responded to questions about his life and work.
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.
The Pacific Coast Theological Society celebrated "the lifetime of achievements of Professor Emeritus Huston Smith by considering the relationship between theology, mythology, and science" in a special session in 2012.In 2015, the society presented Smith with their Codron Prize for The World's Religions.
Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer and philosopher. He wrote nearly fifty books—both novels and non-fiction works—as well as wide-ranging essays, narratives, and poems.
Agnosticism is the view that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable. Another definition provided is the view that "human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist."
The Doors of Perception is a book by Aldous Huxley. Published in 1954, it elaborates on his psychedelic experience under the influence of mescaline in May 1953. Huxley recalls the insights he experienced, ranging from the "purely aesthetic" to "sacramental vision", and reflects on their philosophical and psychological implications. In 1956, he published Heaven and Hell, another essay which elaborates these reflections further. The two works have since often been published together as one book; the title of both comes from William Blake's 1793 book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Comparative religion is the branch of the study of religions concerned with the systematic comparison of the doctrines and practices of the world's religions. In general the comparative study of religion yields a deeper understanding of the fundamental philosophical concerns of religion such as ethics, metaphysics, and the nature and forms of salvation. Studying such material facilitates a broadened and more sophisticated understanding of human beliefs and practices regarding the sacred, numinous, spiritual, and divine.
The Perennial philosophy, also referred to as perennialism and perennial wisdom, is a perspective in spirituality that views all of the world's religious traditions as sharing a single, metaphysical truth or origin from which all esoteric and exoteric knowledge and doctrine has grown.
Swami Prabhavananda was an Indian philosopher, monk of the Ramakrishna Order, and religious teacher. He moved to America in 1923, founded the Vedanta Society of Southern California in 1930, and spent the rest of his life there.
Matthew Fox is an American priest and theologian. Formerly a member of the Dominican Order within the Roman Catholic Church, he became a member of the Episcopal Church following his expulsion from the order in 1993. Fox was an early and influential exponent of a movement that came to be known as Creation Spirituality. The movement draws inspiration from the mystical philosophies of such medieval Catholic visionaries as Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Dante Alighieri, Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa, as well as the wisdom and prophetic traditions of Jewish scriptures. Creation Spirituality is also strongly aligned with ecological and environmental movements of the late 20th century and embraces numerous spiritual traditions around the world, including Buddhism, Judaism, Sufism, and Native American spirituality, with a focus on "deep ecumenism."
The Traditionalist School is a group of 20th and 21st century thinkers who believe in the existence of a perennial wisdom or perennial philosophy, primordial and universal truths which form the source for, and are shared by, all the major world religions.
The Perennial Philosophy is a comparative study of mysticism by the British writer and novelist Aldous Huxley. Its title derives from the theological tradition of perennial philosophy.
Thomas Moore is an American psychotherapist, former monk, and writer of popular spiritual books, including the New York Times bestseller Care of the Soul (1992). He writes and lectures in the fields of archetypal psychology, mythology, and imagination. His work is influenced by the writings of Carl Jung and James Hillman.
Phil Cousineau is an American author, lecturer, independent scholar, screenwriter, and documentary filmmaker.
Arvind Sharma is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University. Sharma's works focus on Hinduism, philosophy of religion. In editing books his works include Our Religions and Women in World Religions,Feminism in World Religions was selected as a Choaphy ChoiceOutstanding Academic Book (1999).
Whitall Nicholson Perry was born in Belmont, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1920. A quest for wisdom led him, as a young man, to travel out to the Far East. In Bali, in 1939, he found the echoes of a still authentic traditional world that sparked a lifelong encounter with ancient traditions, which he approached through the metaphysical perspectives of Platonism and Vedanta. He spent several decades abroad, living first in Giza, Egypt, where he met and frequented the French metaphysician René Guénon, and later in Lausanne, Switzerland where he became a close associate of the German metaphysician and mystic, Frithjof Schuon. In 1980, he moved to Bloomington, Indiana where he resided for the last 25 years of his life. He died on November 18, 2005.
Don Lattin is an award-winning journalist and the author of six published books, including the national bestseller The Harvard Psychedelic Club and Changing Our Minds -- Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy Lattin’s work has appeared in many U.S. magazines and newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, where he worked for two decades as a staff writer covering religion, spirituality and psychology.
Frederick Earl Sontag was a professor of philosophy and author. He taught at Pomona College in Claremont, California from 1952 to 2009, retiring shortly before his death.
Dana Sawyer was born in Jonesport, Maine in 1951. He is a full-time professor of religion and philosophy at the Maine College of Art and an adjunct professor in Asian Religions at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine. He is the author of numerous published papers and books, including Aldous Huxley: A Biography, which Laura Huxley described as, "Out of all the biographies written about Aldous, this is the only one he would have actually liked." In 2014, Sawyer's authorized biography of Huston Smith was published.
The Spiritual Heritage of India is a book written by Swami Prabhavananda (1893–1976), founder and head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California from 1930 until his death. Originally published in 1962 by Doubleday, the book has been republished with the same title in several later editions, including hardcover, paperback, and sound recording. It has been reviewed in magazines and professional journals. A foreword by Huston Smith was first included in a 1979 edition.
Philip Novak is a Sarlo Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Dominican University in San Rafael, California. He received a bachelor's degree in English at University of Notre Dame (1972), and MA and PhD degrees in Religion at Syracuse University (1981). He joined the faculty of Dominican University in 1980. Novak has been Dean of the School of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences.
Rami M. Shapiro, commonly called "Rabbi Rami", is an author, teacher, and speaker on the subjects of liberal Judaism and contemporary spirituality. He served for ten years as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Middle Tennessee State University.
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