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A Half-Century's Search For Insight and Answers

Huston Smith Brings His Collection of Views on Religion and History to Washington

By Bill Broadway
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 12, 2005; Page B09

From an interview with Huston Smith, a religious icon and a strongly opinionated individual:

Q:Professor Smith, you've said that Westerners have been "ravished" by science, taken in by technologies and inventions that make life easier but offer little insight into spiritual reality. What do you mean by that?

Historian Huston Smith, 85, is author of "The World's Religions." (Randi Lynn Beach - For The Washington Post)

Smith Lecture
From washingtonpost.com at 1:23 PM

Huston Smith will speak on "China's Place in World History" at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the arts center theater at Sidwell Friends School, 3825 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Admission is free, but space is limited. 202-537-8181.

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A: Science is empirical, all about physical senses that tell us about the world. But physical senses are not the only senses we have. Nobody has ever seen a thought. Nobody has ever seen a feeling. And yet thoughts and feelings are where we live our lives most immediately, and science cannot connect with that.

What are the religious trends in the world today?

A huge fact that affects that answer is that we're at war [against terrorism]. Both sides claim that God is

on their side, that they are champions of God's will, and the enemy is the Devil. . . . The rhetoric is exactly the same on both sides: We're defining God's will and the enemy is the Axis of Evil or the Evil Empire. They say exactly the same thing about us. Just change the name.

Did you support the war in Iraq?

I emphatically did not. I think our hope is to work together, and here [the United States is acting] unilaterally. We started our verydevastating war, and look what it's done to our finances, our deficit.

We're paying for it with a credit card, and our kids are going to have to pay off our credit card.

At 85, Huston Smith is one of the most revered and longest-working historians of religion. He has studied, practiced and taught for a half-century and achieved crossover status by finding an audience among academics as well as the general public.

His book "The World's Religions" has been on college and seminary reading lists and sold 2.5 million copies since its publication in 1958 as "The Religions of Man." In 1996, Smith was the subject of a five-part PBS series, "The Wisdom of Faith," and was introduced by host Bill Moyers as "the most influential religious scholar of the 20th century."

Smith, who was interviewed by telephone this week, will make a rare appearance in Washington on Wednesday when he presents the 23rd annual Zeidman Memorial Lecture at Sidwell Friends School in Northwest. On Thursday, he will attend classes and talk with students, said Jon Zeljo, chairman of the history department and director of Sidwell's 22-year-old Chinese studies program.

The lecture series is named for John Zeidman, a 1979 Sidwell graduate who died in 1982 after contracting viral encephalitis while studying at Beijing Normal University. Past speakers have included Chinese scholars, ambassadors and diplomats -- some of them Sidwell graduates -- and such authors as playwright Arthur Miller, who spoke about directing a production of "Death of a Salesman" in Beijing.

Zeljo said he chose Smith for this year's lecture because of his understanding of the culture and history of China, where Smith was born to Methodist missionaries and lived until he was 17, and of various cultures throughout the world. Smith's accessible personality and reputation as one of the leading scholars of world religions made the choice easy, Zeljo said.

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