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The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions [Unabridged] [Paperback]

by Huston Smith
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 16, 1991 0062508113 978-0062508119 Rev Rep

Originally titled The Religions of Man, this completely revised and updated edition of Smith′s masterpiece, now with an engaging new foreword, explores the essential elements and teachings of the world′s predominant faiths, including:








and the native traditions of the Americas, Australia, Africa, and Oceania.

Emphasising the inner -- rather than institutional -- dimensions of these religions, Smith devotes special attention to Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism, and the teachings of Jesus. He convincingly conveys the unique appeal and gifts of each of the traditions and reveals their hold on the human heart and imagination.

Editorial Reviews Review

The World's Religions, by Huston Smith, has been a standard introduction to its eponymous subject since its first publication in 1958. Smith writes humbly, forswearing judgment on the validity of world religions. His introduction asks, "How does it all sound from above? Like bedlam, or do the strains blend in strange, ethereal harmony? ... We cannot know. All we can do is try to listen carefully and with full attention to each voice in turn as it addresses the divine. Such listening defines the purpose of this book." His criteria for inclusion and analysis of religions in this book are "relevance to the modern mind" and "universality," and his interest in each religion is more concerned with its principles than its context. Therefore, he avoids cataloging the horrors and crimes of which religions have been accused, and he attempts to show each "at their best." Yet The World's Religions is no pollyannaish romp: "It is about religion alive," Huston writes. "It calls the soul to the highest adventure it can undertake, a proposed journey across the jungles, peaks, and deserts of the human spirit. The call is to confront reality." And by translating the voices of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Christianity, and Judaism, among others, Smith has amplified the divine call for generations of readers. --Michael Joseph Gross


"Huston Smith's classic on the world's religions has justifiably become as venerable as the old texts he studies. . . . I urge all readers to make it the core of their home library." -- Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and The Soul of Sex

"Intelligent, clearly written...reveals the spirit of each faith." -- New York Times

"Intelligent, clearly written...reveals the spirit of each faith." -- -- New York Times

"Intelligent, clearly written...reveals the spirit of each faith." -- -- The New York Times Book Review

"The best one-volume book on world religions remains Huston Smith's THE WORLD RELIGIONS." -- Library Journal

"This is not only the best book of its kind, there is nothing else in its league." -- -- Stephen Mitchell

"This is one book on world religions I can't do without. I return to it often--and always with reward." -- Bill Moyers

"This is one book on world religions I can't do without. I return to it often--and always with reward." -- -- Bill Moyers

"Huston Smith's classic on the world's religions has justifiably become as venerable as the old texts he studies. I'm thrilled to see it enjoying yet another incarnation. It is more important today than it was in its first printing, and I urge everyone to make it the core of their home library." -- Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and The Soul of Sex

"Intelligent, clearly written...reveals the spirit of each faith." -- The New York Times Book Review

"This is not only the best book of its kind, there is nothing else in its league." -- Stephen Mitchell

Product Details

  • Paperback: 399 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Rev Rep edition (August 16, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062508113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062508119
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,639 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
111 of 114 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Mr. Smith extracts from the world's great religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity - that which is ideal. He intentionally does not delve into the minutiae of religious history or the many ways in which religion has been used as a vehicle for evil. As he explains, "The empowering theological and metaphysical truths of the world's religions are . . . inspired. Institutions - religious institutions emphatically included - are another story. . . ."

The book thus sets forth in careful, clear prose and clever detail the very best of seven influential world religions - their core beliefs, their inherent beauty. Mr. Smith is a genius with an analogy, and unfamiliar, or arguably bizarre, religious abstractions are summed up and made concrete in the stroke of a pen. Take, for example, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. "It holds that while God is fully one, God is also three. The latter half of this claim leads Jews and Muslims to wonder if Christians are truly monotheists, but Christians are confident that they are. As water, ice, and steam, H2O ssumes states that are liquid, solid, and gaseous while retaining its chemical identity."

This brilliant book is a "must read" for everyone, of every religious persuasion. The respect it instills for diverse religious beliefs, and the manner in which the reader slowly comes to realize how much seemingly incompatable religious systems have in common, is nothing less than profound.

-- Christine Klein
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69 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read, but hard to understand November 29, 1999
This is the text book used at the high school I currently attend for the World Religion class. It is much too complex for the average high school junior so I don't know why the school chose it. I however found the book to be a remarkable literary masterpiece. It uses vivid language and broad ideas to portray many of the worlds great religions. It does not give a full detail of all the religions but only a general description and some highlight of dogma. The author limits the book to the main sect of each religion and does not go into small segregations (i.e. Christianity not Baptist). This 17 y/o high school junior believes that this book is a must read for any person looking for a faith to fit your beliefs or just anyone curious about the beliefs of other people in the world.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good overview December 8, 1999
_The World's Religions_ (published in its first editions as _The Religions of Man_) makes good reading for those of us who want to know a little bit about a lot of faiths. There is something here about just about every organized spiritual tradition I could think of, plus many that were new to me.
Smith explains each religion with a clear, nonjudgmental style. His aim is to give a broad survey, rather than defend a thesis. Beginning readers of comparative religion will find this book a great introduction and an invaluable resource.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tremendous resource February 9, 2001
By A Customer
This is one of the most meaningful and insightful books I have ever read. Mr. Smith gives the reader a reasonable explanation of each of the world's major religions. One of the most interesting parts of the book is the discussion of the historical period that gave birth to each religion. While I have never met Mr. Smith or heard him speak, I suspect he has studied linguistics along with religion. I say this because he often takes time to explain meanings of concepts in the context of their native language and culture. I found this fascinating.
As someone who has tried to write, I found Mr. Smith's talent in this area to be awe-inspiring. I can't count the number of times I would read a paragraph, then look back in amazement at the depth of information that had been conveyed in such a small space. For those who seek to understand other cultures and religions, or even to better understand their own, this book is a gift.
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161 of 190 people found the following review helpful
By Spiff
Being at a stage of agnosticism, I found myself curious and needing to know more about all the religions, and decided to try Houston Smith's "The World's Religions". Smith includes the world's predominant faiths: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and the native traditions several continents. If this is your first contact with many of these religions, you will for sure feel lost. Even in the engaging way Smith writes, there is just too much information that is left out, and I often found myself wondering about certain subjects that were mentioned but not explained. My main problem with this book was perhaps the lack of more historical facts, a clear exposure of the main differences between religions, and a better index, which is essential not only for reference but also for people who are having their first contact with religion (For instance, Torah, now what's that anyway? Hmm, no, it's not in the index...hmm).
Not even Smith's summaries at the end of each chapter will leave you with the feeling you finally understand it all, and I wouldn't mind having some graphics clarifying things out a bit better instead of having to take notes all the time - A broader view on the subject. I am perhaps spoiled with my engineering degree in college where complex matters are usually explained with the help of some diagrams, so some people might not miss this aspect.
But don't get me wrong. This book does deliver most of what it promises, and attempts to cover extremely complex matters of heart that are simply impossible to fully present in a book, much of it you will have to feel, not read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars complex and informative
I loved this book for the information it contains and as a reference tool. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys theology studying.
Published 15 days ago by Teresa L. Kirkham
5.0 out of 5 stars Compartive religions
Houston Smith has written a classic on World Religions. It is clear and
balanced and very informative. I have found it very helpful to learn
about other faiths.
Published 1 month ago by Marcia Ann George
4.0 out of 5 stars Religion book
Not my favorite book type to read but it is great for my religions class. Might read again sometime in the future
Published 2 months ago by Natasha Wendell
5.0 out of 5 stars feel blessed to have been able to read this book
having read the book and deeply cognizant of my gross ineligibility to comment on it, i will restrict myself to saying just that I feel deeply thankful and grateful to the author... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Megh
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for understanding of different cultures and the religions...
A very easy read for the most part. I have found myself going back and reading it again and again. Finding different understanding each time I read. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Charles R. Cloninger Jr.
4.0 out of 5 stars Right decent book
The condition and shipping was just as described. nice turnaround.Not a bad read and interesting. the view is a bit slanted but not a bad start on reading about different religions
Published 4 months ago by JOHN R
5.0 out of 5 stars Accurate and positive view.
Accurate review and summary of main points of most popular religions; easy to follow and the prime of each approach.
Published 7 months ago by Balin
5.0 out of 5 stars Even though it is over 20 years old, it is still an essential book for...
I used it to help develop and teach a Comparative Religion course for 12th grade kids in VA public school. Read more
Published 8 months ago by James Stevens
5.0 out of 5 stars Well reseasched
Mr. Smith reports on the world's major religions without bias for any one. He quotes secondary sources where applicable and makes some comparisons between some religious beliefs,... Read more
Published 8 months ago by jim silvestri
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for in depth analysis of world religions
This book is a great book. It covers many interesting topics of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and other religions. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Adam
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