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Beyond the Postmodern Mind: The Place of Meaning in a Global Civilization Paperback – July 25, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Huston Smith, widely regarded as the most learned and literary contemporary writer on the history of religions, is Former Professor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Syracuse University. His books include The World’s Religions, Forgotten Truth, and the award-winning Why Religion Matters. He lives in Berkeley, California.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 295 pages
  • Publisher: Quest Books; 3 edition (July 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0835608301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0835608305
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #715,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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 it 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 to 1947, moved to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, for the next 10 years, and then served as professor of Philosophy at MIT from 1958 to 1973. While at MIT, he participated in some of the experiments with entheogens that professor Timothy Leary conducted at Harvard University. Smith 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, California, area where he is Visiting Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

During his career, Smith not only studied but also practiced Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism (under Goto Zuigan), and Sufism for over 10 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 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 his 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 that 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, in an attempt to raise spiritual awareness through entheogenic plants.

He has been a friend of the XIVth Dalai Lama for more than 40 years, and has met and talked to some of the great figures of the century, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Thomas Merton.

Smith 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 five-part PBS special to Smith's life and work: The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith. Smith has also 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.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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While I would not necessarily recommend this book as a first introduction to the Perennial Philosophy, I would recommend it as the best single volume critique of the Modern Western Mindset. Indeed, I wish that this book would have been available in my younger years when I intuitively knew that there was something inherently wrong with the modern worldview yet I was not scholar enough to pin it down. Fortunately, Huston Smith is such a scholar.

While the chapters on the Perennial Philosophy and the relevance of the great religions are concise and to the point, it is the way that he deconstructs the deconstructionists that is unique and powerful. The way he proceeds to point out the flaws in the basic assumptions of the major modern schools of philosophy is refreshing to say the least. There is really no convincing foundation to the materialist (or naturalist) mindset. The scientism and dualist mindset that has grown to dominate the West since the 17th century has no real justifiable basis. The major thinkers in modern philosophy recognize this and have declared their own discipline as dead- except in the most technical and relatively insignificant technical areas. When they conspired to kill metaphysics they killed the source of all possible meaning in the world.

Still, it is not all an attack on modernity. When the author mentioned his discovery of Schuon's works I knew exactly the excitement that he was talking about. They served to validate conclusions that had been brewing in my mind for some time. In the same way, this book has served as a powerful validation.

One thing that jumped out at me was his discussion of the alienation and atomization that characterizes modern life.
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The book is a collection of speeches and journal articles written by Huston Smith over the last few decades. From previous experience, I know that Professor Smith has a penchant for presenting complex topics in a readily accessible form. While I like this about his writing, I feel that he does not describe these terms in all of their complexity. The essays are polemical in nature and focus on Professor Smith's desire to revive metaphysics especially ontology and redirect modern epistemology away from control and towards awareness. As important as these topics are, I felt that Professor Smith avoided the social and political nature of any type of knowledge. Since I believe that this is one of post-modernism's thorniest critiques, time and space must be given to the real-time consequences of imposition of his hierarchic ontology. On the other hand, as a person of faith, this collect of essays challenges my worldview and forces me to consider how I have made space for a transcendent reality within the West's naturalistic worldview.
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I read this book hoping for a much needed clarion call for a return to tradition, a la Rene Guenon and Fritjof Schuon, et al. I was somewhat dissappointed. Anyway:
The good. In this book, Huston Smith a professor of religion presents a series of essays about overcoming the post-modern (or as it's now spelled "postmodern") worldview and re-establishing metaphysics with an emphasis on transcendence. He presents a unique Weltanschauung based upon the world's major religions and a return to traditionalist thought. In this much, I agree with him. His version of perennialism, the primordial philosophy, is far better than the nonsense that passes for philosophy under the guise of post-modernism (postmodernism).
The bad. The problem is that Smith seems to think that all the evils of the West can be attributed to that universal bugbear science, and its growing infiltration into the humanities and philosophy. He is correct in that science is the guiding principle (dare I say, religion) of our times. However, the problem is that he takes this anti-scientism to an absurd extreme. Saying that science (and it's practical application in technology) is the sole cause of the loss of transcendence within our worldview is about as goofy as saying that it can be blamed on "mixing with inferior races". For instance, while the Darwinian theory certainly has problem areas and is ultimately rooted (in perhaps suspect) philosophical assumptions, his dismissal of it strikes me as incredibly facile.
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