Dr. Dana Sawyer’s career studying religion and transcendence made him the perfect biographer of Huston Smith.
photo by: Skeptiko
Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Dr. Dana Sawyer to Skeptiko. Dana is a professor of religion and philosophy at the Maine College of Art and the author of Huston Smith: Wisdomkeeper: Living the World’s Religions: The Authorized Biography of a 21st Century Spiritual Giant
Dana, it’s great to have you here. Thanks so much for joining me on Skeptiko.
Dr. Dana Sawyer: Thanks for inviting. Great to be here.
Alex Tsakiris: So on the back of this book cover, people are going to find a blurb of the Dalai Lama
. First of all, I don’t imagine that the Dalai Lama gives out a lot of book blurbs, but he did for this one, and what he wrote is really, I think, interesting. He said, “Huston Smith
is an outstanding authority on the world’s religions because he has put so many of them into practice and discovered their real taste.”
Who is Huston Smith?
Dr. Dana Sawyer: Well, one time the Christian Science Monitor referred to him as religion’s rock star, and he was certainly that. For more than 50 years, Huston Smith was the most renowned scholar of the world’s religions in the world. He had written a book in 1958 called the Religions of Man
, that’s now called the World’s Religions, to correct that mistake of non-inclusive language, but that book has never been out of print since 1958. The vast majority of college students or people who went to college and have ever taken a course on world religions read that book; that was the textbook.
That was a breakthrough kind of book for Huston, but it was also a breakthrough book in the academic study of religion because prior to that book, most people felt like the job of an academic was to deconstruct religion, and explain to us in modernist terms why religion was over with and why we are better off without all that silly superstition. Huston started in a very different place, which was rather than judging the religions, he simply wanted to be a good academic and describe them and that’s what he did. In that book, each chapter is written in such a way that a believer of that particular tradition would be nodding their head yes like […] Hinduism he is describing currently. This is what I feel.” And then in the next chapter he does that for Buddhism, et cetera, so that’s one of the answers you can give…
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Before you give another one because the whole book that you’ve done here is really a broader look at all the answers to that question — which I think is wonderful — tell folks a little bit about how you came to write this biography.
Dr. Dana Sawyer: Well, maybe about 14 years ago, I wrote a biography of Aldous Huxley.
Alex Tsakiris: A very critically, well received biography of Aldous Huxley
, we should say, but go ahead.
Dr. Dana Sawyer: That’s right. That’s right. In fact, his wife, Laura Huxley,