Smith died peacefully on the morning of December 30, 2016 at his
World's Religion scholar and seeker of the Divine, died at home on
December 30, 2016 in Berkeley, California after a long illness. He
was largely responsible for introducing Eastern religion to
Americans with his 1950s TV series,
The Religions of Man, which led to his classic textbook, The World's
He was born in 1919 in China to missionary parents and planned to
continue in their footsteps as a missionary - but while in
college in the U.S., he was exposed to mysticism and was
introduced to Gerald Heard, Aldous Huxley, and Vedanta, which
changed the direction of his life.
He studied Vedanta for over 10 years (1947 - 1959) under Swami
Satprakashananda at the St. Louis Vedanta Center, which set a
pattern of studying religion from within the religion at the feet
of a master in that tradition. He also dove into Zen Buddhism,
Sufism, and other faiths.
In the mid-1950s he brought Martin Luther King to lecture at a
segregated Washington University in St. Louis - helping to break
the color barrier.
Huston was the "adult" in the group at Harvard with
Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later Ramdass) during the
Harvard Psychedelic experiments, warning that the drug experience
might point the way, but was not the goal.
Huston helped get the Dalai Lama to the U.S. and also helped the
Native American Church get legal status for their sacred peyote
rites. In 1996 Bill Moyers produced a 5-part PBS series featuring
Huston on the world’s religions.
includes his wife, Kendra; daughters Karen, Gael, and Kimberly Smith; grandchildren:
Serena, Sierra, Isaiah, Antonio; great-grandchildren Aubrey, Sasha, Gil,
Additionally, a multi-generational Tibetan family were a great
support for him. Tenzin Kunsang and Dolma are a part of the household, and Tenzin Choden
also helped with Huston's care.
Huston lectured all over the world and had written dozens of
books, selling millions of copies. Additionally, he is the
first Westerner to discover Tibetan multi-phonic chanting and
brought it to the West.
His influence has been profound, but perhaps largely hidden from
the general public. While many admire his intellect, he was also
well-loved for his warmth and fun-loving gentle humor. He is
contributor, Huston Smith who left us on December 30, 2016 at the age
issue, Winter 1976, included the magazine’s first interview.
Conducted by then-editor John Loudon, it questioned religion scholar
Huston Smith, author of the bestseller THE RELIGIONS OF
MAN, whom Loudon described as “a man who has traveled
widely, but deeply, learning the many languages for what is
primordially true.” What follows is an edited version from our
2013 summer issue: “Heaven
He did a lot of good
to the world and also to our Vedanta society...A
- Swami Chetanananda, Vedanta Society of St. Louis
Buddhist] Monastery houses the Huston Smith Memorial Library, with over
2000 volumes graciously donated by Huston, to get our fledgling
Institute For World Religions underway over twenty years ago. Huston was
a regular visitor, and considered us his "local Sangha."
celebration feels much more appropriate than mourning...
- Rev. Heng Sure, Berkeley Buddhist Monastery
Huston was a saint,
surely, but more so, a true human. He embodied what is spoken of
but perhaps submerged in religion and in spirituality: the depth
of true connection and respect for all peoples and all paths.
If it wasn't for
Huston's specific encouragement, I would never have had the courage to
write the book I wrote. But I am sure that is true for so so many.
...If it wasn't for Huston...
May his joy now
be complete - Mikele Rauch
From Iran, Qom. this
is Dr. Bagher Talebi Darabi, assistant prof at university of Religions
and Denominations, would like to express my sadness of hearing that the
great man Huston Smith died. I was translating his book World religions
into Persian language. but I could not finish it in his life ... but I
surly continue to do finish it.
The above photographs were taken at Omega
Institute circa 2000 by Heidi M. Kettler
Footage - Huston Smith's Pioneering TV Series The Religions of Man on
Smith is Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Distinguished
Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Syracuse University. For
fifteen years he was Professor of Philosophy at M.I.T. and for a decade
before that he taught at Washington University in St. Louis. Most
recently he has served as Visiting Professor of Religious Studies,
University of California, Berkeley.
Holder of twelve honorary degrees, Smith’s fourteen books include
The World’s Religions
which has sold over 2 ˝ million copies, and Why Religion Matters
which won the Wilbur Award for the best book on religion published in
2001. In 1996 Bill Moyers devoted a 5-part PBS Special, The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith,
to his life and work. His film documentaries on Hinduism, Tibetan
Buddhism, and Sufism have all won International. awards, and
Journal of Ethnomusicology lauded his discovery
of Tibetan multiphonic chanting, Music
of Tibet, as “an important landmark in the study of
is the official Huston Smith website. It is noncommercial and meant
to facilitate the finding and, if desired, ordering of Huston Smith's
works in various media and translation via third party fulfillment.