[Jacques Maritain] would come around to what he called “the habit of art.” Artists, he would say, need… to cultivate the habit of art in their entire lives. Is it different with us who have religion as our core concern? Do not we, too, need to cultivate – I shall not say the habit of religion, but the habit of God?”
The Habit of God
Topic: Interfaith Pathways
“During these days I have found my thoughts returning to a phrase that Jacques Maritain, the Neo-Thomist philosopher of a generation ago, made familiar to me. In speaking of art, he would come around to what he called “the habit of art.” Artists, he would say, need not merely to paint, or sculpt, or sing. They need to cultivate the habit of art in their entire lives. Is it different with us who have religion as our core concern? Do not we, too, need to cultivate – I shall not say the habit of religion, but the habit of God?“
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.
Assembly of the World's Religions
Bryant, M. Darrol., et al. Assembly of the World's Religions, 1985: Spiritual Unity and the Future of the Earth: a Report,1986, p. 220 [Dr. Huston Smith, Farewell Banquet Remarks].
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