If we are to be true to these religions [the wisdom traditions], we must attend to others as deeply and as alertly as we hope that they will attend to us…
Attend To Others
Topic: Interfaith Pathways
“Understanding, then, can lead to love. But the reverse is also true. Love brings understanding; the two are reciprocal. So we must listen to understand, but we must also listen to put into play the compassion that the wisdom traditions all enjoin, for it is impossible to love another without hearing that other. If we are to be true to these religions, we must attend to others as deeply and as alertly as we hope that they will attend to us; Thomas Merton made this point by saying that God speaks to us in three places: in scripture, in our deepest selves, and in the voice of the stranger. We must have the graciousness to receive as well as to give, for there is no greater way to depersonalize another than to speak without also listening.”
Huston Cummings Smith was an influential American scholar of comparative religions, best known for his accessible and insightful writings on the world's major religious traditions. Born on May 31, 1919, in Suzhou, China to missionary parents, Smith spent much of his early life in an environment deeply infused with religious and cultural exchanges. This formative experience undoubtedly laid the foundation for his later work in religious studies. Educated at Central Methodist University and the University of Chicago, Smith embarked on an academic journey that saw him teach at various reputable institutions, including Washington University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Syracuse University, and the University of California, Berkeley.
Smith's most celebrated work, "The World's Religions," originally published in 1958 as "The Religions of Man," has been a staple in comparative religion courses for decades. The book presents a comprehensive overview of the world's major faith traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, elucidating their core tenets, practices, and histories. Smith's gift was his ability to distill complex religious concepts into engaging and approachable narratives, making them accessible to a broad audience. The book's success—evidenced by its sales of over three million copies—attests to its enduring appeal and Smith's prowess as a writer and educator.
Throughout his career, Huston Smith emphasized the importance of understanding and appreciating the diverse religious landscapes of the world. He believed that at the heart of every religion was a perennial philosophy—a set of universal truths—that could foster mutual respect and understanding among people of different faiths. Beyond his written work, Smith was an avid proponent of interfaith dialogue and was often sought as a speaker and commentator on religious issues. He passed away on December 30, 2016, but his legacy endures through his contributions to the field of religious studies and his tireless efforts to promote a more harmonious and interconnected world.
The World's Religions
Smith, Huston. The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. Harper San Francisco, 1999. pp. 384 & 390.
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