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Lions Roar : November 2009
35 SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 There was noThing comparaTive about religion in 1950s america. Your religion was right. others were wrong. The familiar religions were a little bit wrong; religions from far-flung parts of the world were very wrong. indigenous religions were savagery. and mystical experiences were the province of the crazy. into this world came huston smith’s 1958 book, The Religions of Man. with a spirit of open inquiry and enthusiasm about all the world’s religions, smith introduced americans to ways of seeing and being in the world that were previously unknown to them. Fifty years and nearly three million copies later, his book—revised and retitled The World’s Religions—remains the preeminent survey text in comparative religion. author of more than a dozen other books, huston smith has been an intrepid inves- tigator of all things religious and an agent provocateur for almost seventy years. now, at age ninety, smith has finally written an autobiography, Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine. i used the occasion to visit him in Berkeley, california, and discuss his life and work. Just a few days earlier, i was talking with a colleague in san Francisco who mentioned that he had picked up a book from his parents’ library when he was a teenager. he said that what he had read there about satori, enlightenment, yin, and yang had stuck with him ever since. The book, of course, was The Religions of Man. how many people must have had similar experiences? how many people’s minds had been altered by huston smith? Fifty Years on the Razor’s Edge Barry Boyce visits husTon smiTh, the renowned spiritual explorer who brought an insider’s knowledge of the world’s religions to a narrow-minded west and defined comparative religion as we know it today. phoTos BY andrea roTh