Huston Cummings Smith (born May 31, 1919 in Suzhou, China) is a religious studies scholar in the United States. His book The World’s Religions (originally titled The Religions of Man) remains a popular introduction to comparative religion.
Bio from Wikipedia, 1/5/2012
In 2006, Smith shared his faith story with United Methodist Communications:
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 Hinduism, Zen Buddhism (studying under Goto Zuigan), and Sufi Islam for over ten years each.
As a young man, he suddenly turned from traditional Methodist Christianity to mysticism by the influence of 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 Southern California. Heard made arrangements to have Smith meet the legendary author Aldous Huxley. 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.