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Huston Smith Papers

An inventory of his papers at the Syracuse University Archives

Finding aid created by: Shenae M. Hennagir Barkas
Date: 2010


Huston Smith

Huston Cummings Smith (1919-2016) was the Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Syracuse University. He was born May 31, 1919 and raised in Soochow, China to American Methodist missionary parents. He lived in China until he relocated to Missouri to attend Central College, where he earned an A.B. degree studying Western religion in 1940. Huston Smith went on to obtain a degree in philosophy and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1945. After deliberating whether to pursue an academic career or a career in ministry, Smith accepted a position at the University of Denver, where he first met Aldous Huxley.

Through the writings of Huxley and Gerald Heard, Smith was inspired to explore religious mysticism and quickly expanded his interest to studying world religions. In 1947, Smith took a teaching position at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he remained for ten years. His in-depth research of world religions continued while at Washington University, including the study of Vedanta Hinduism for ten years. From these interests and experiences, in 1958 Huston Smith published what would become a seminal text in the field of comparative religion, The Religions of Man (later renamed The World's Religions).

From 1958 to 1973 Smith was professor of philosophy at M.I.T., where he continued his intensive studies of world religions, including newfound interests in Zen Buddhism and Sufism. In 1973, he began his tenure at Syracuse University, and in 1983, Smith moved on to the University of California-Berkeley where he was Visiting Professor of Religious Studies.

Smith made a lifelong journey exploring what he called "the great Wisdom Traditions." He wrote innumerable books, essays and articles on philosophy and religion; he hosted two public television series; and he circled the world more than ten times seeking answers to religious questions through lived experience. During his travels, Huston Smith encountered and befriended many well-known and history-making individuals, including the Dalai Lama XIV, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 2009, Smith was named a “sage” of the Order of Universal Interfaith (OUnI), a universal ecclesiastic order, associated with the Council of Interfaith Communities (CIC-USA). The CIC-USA annually presents the Huston Smith Award for Interfaith Education, given to honor those who teach about world religions in ways that promote understanding, harmony and respect.

Scope and Content Note

The Huston Smith Papers span the years 1919 to 2012 and cover both his personal and professional life. The collection consists of four series:

The Personal and family papers series includes correspondence, photographs, awards, memorabilia and other family and personal materials. Albert Einstein, the Dalai Lama, Aldous and Laura Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Eleanor Roosevelt are among the more significant correspondents. Photographs include those from Smith's childhood in China as well as Smith with the Dalai Lama. The autobiography of Smith's ancestor Henry Longdom is also in this series.

The Professional activities series includes Smith's published articles, published interviews with and about him, reviews of his work, and material from various lectures, addresses, and conferences Smith attended or arranged, including the Dalai Lama's visit to Syracuse University in 1978.

The Books series is by far the largest series. It includes monographs authored by Smith, essay collections, and books with forwards and prefaces authored by him. A group of books referencing, dedicated to, and endorsed by Smith also make up the series.

The Audio/video materials series includes video and audio recordings of interviews, lectures, narrations, and adaptations of Smith's written works. Most formats comprise VHS, DVDs and CDs.


Access Restrictions:

Please note that the collection is housed off-site, and advance notice is required to allow time to have the materials brought to the Reading Room on campus.

Access to recordings requires advance notice to produce a use copy.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from the Syracuse University Archives and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Selected Search Terms


Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV, 1935-
Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955.
Heard, Gerald, 1889-1971.
Huxley, Aldous, 1894-1963.
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962.
Smith, Huston.
Syracuse University.

Associated Titles

The religions of man.
The world's religions: our greatest wisdom traditions.


World religions.
College teachers.
Higher education.

Types of Material

Compact discs.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Huston Smith Papers,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Huston Smith donated his papers to the University Archives between 1997 and 2012. Letters between Smith and Virginia Hanser Ward were donated by George Albertus in 2018.

Processing Information

The Huston Smith Papers are processed.

Table of Contents

Personal and family papers

Professional activities


Audio/visual materials