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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Memorial Service Feb. 19 for Huston Smith

Smith remembered for inclusive view of sacred traditions

Feb. 15, 2017, by Renée K. Gadoua

Huston Smith - Photo Credit: Heidi M. Kettler
Huston Smith - Photo Credit: Heidi M. Kettler

Syracuse University will host a memorial service Sunday, Feb. 19, for the renowned religion scholar Huston Smith. Smith, former Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, taught at Syracuse from 1973-1984 and died Dec. 30 at age 97.

The memorial will begin with a 49th day memorial service at 11 a.m. at the Zen Center of Syracuse Hoen-ji, 266 W. Seneca Turnpike. The service will be followed by a 12:30 p.m. luncheon sharing of memories in the Kilian Room, 500 Hall of Languages.

Smith’s respect for and practice of Buddhism make the 49th day memorial service appropriate, says Shinge Roshi Roko Sherry Chayat, a longtime friend of the University who knew Smith well.

“Buddhists believe that when someone dies there is still a consciousness or an energy force that continues after the physical body disintegrates,” she explains. “That consciousness takes a new birth after 49-day period of transition. Although he was a Christian, he was very drawn to Buddhism and he would appreciate that he would be remembered in this ceremonial way.”

Chayat, abbot of the Zen Center of Syracuse, says Smith was very supportive in the creation of the Zen Center. She also worked with Smith to bring the Dalai Lama to campus in 1979.

The 49th day service will be held at the Zen Center’s Carriage House. Guests are asked to arrive at 10:45 a.m. and are asked to call the center at 315.492.9773 to R.S.V.P.

Smith was an early champion of religious pluralism and interfaith respect. He remains well known for his 1958 book “Religions of Man,” later revised, expanded and renamed “The World’s Religions.” The two versions have sold more than three million copies. It remains a popular introductory textbook, and is often on the syllabus for Syracuse’s Religion 101, according to Philip Arnold, chair of the religion department

Lunch will include videos of Huston Smith. That will be followed by anecdotes shared by Smith’s friends and colleagues, including Chayat, Arnold and others.

“Huston made profound contributions to the comparative study of religion, which have marked our department, Syracuse University and the wider community,” Arnold says. “This memorial event allows us all to express our respect and admiration for him and his legacy.”