Ninian Smart

Born in Cambridge, UK, Ninian Smart was classically trained at Oxford University in languages, history, and philosophy, after first having served as a young man in Ceylon (now named Sri Lanka) in the mid- to late 1940s as a member of the British Army Intelligence Corps. But it was as a scholar of religion that he made his lasting international mark, notably at (among the many other universities at which he taught) the University of Lancaster, in the UK, and the University of California at Santa Barbara, in the US. Beginning in 1967 at Lancaster, and 1976 at UCSB, he played a pivotal role at both institutions in helping to establish thriving programs in the academic study of religion--a role that had much to do with not only his many writings on the proper method for conducting the public study of religion, as well as his well-known cross-cultural research on many of the world's religions, but also the long list of graduate students he trained throughout the years. To signify his tremendous impact on the international field, the Ninian Smart Annual Memorial Lecture was established after his death, with the location rotating each year between Lancaster and Santa Barbara. The first such lecture, delivered in Lancaster, was presented by Mary Douglas in 2002, followed by Jonathan Z. Smith in 2003. In 2005 the lecture was presented by Wendy Doniger.

Major Works

Reasons and Faiths: An Investigation of Religious Discourse, Christian and Non-Christian (1958)

A Dialogue of Religions (1960)

Philosophers and Religious Truth (1964)

Secular Education and the Logic of Religion (1968)

The Religious Experience of Mankind (1969)

The Phenomenon of Religion (1973)

The Science of Religion & the Sociology of Knowledge: Some Methodological Questions (1973)

The Phenomenon of Christianity (1978)

Beyond Ideology: Religion and the Future of Western Civilization (1981)

Worldviews: Cross-cultural Explorations of Human Beliefs (1982)

Nineteenth-Century Religious Thought in the West (1985; co-ed., 3 vols.)

Dimensions of the Sacred: An Anatomy of the World's Beliefs


"While we may begin from the base of more traditional systems to which we in the West and elsewhere tend to assign the name 'religions,' our field should include the study of ideologies and philosophies. There was always something unfortunate about the segregation and, indeed, protection therefore of the category of religion.... [I]t seems obvious to me that a person can analyze nationalism, for instance, through the application of the theory of dimensions of religion.... A nation has its myth or myths (history as taught in high school and the like, loaded history, of course, underlining heroes and national values); its rituals of various kinds, from inaugurations to memorials for the dead, even its sports and its language; its emotions of patriotism and pride, and so on; its institutions; its ethics (how to be a good citizen); its material and artistic dimension (from its land, to its monuments and music, and so on); and its doctrines (democratic ideals, ideology, religious tradition, and so on)."

- from Ninian Smart, "Methods in My Life" (1998)

Select Web Resources on Smart

Transcript of an April 1999 radio interview with Ninian Smart

"The Formation Rather than the Origin of Tradition," by Ninian Smart

Secondary Literature on Smart and Religion

Peter Masefield and Donald Wiebe (eds.), Aspects of Religion: Essays in Honour of Ninian Smart. Peter Lang, 1994.

Ninian Smart, "Methods in My Life," in The Craft of Religious Studies. pp. 18-35. St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Special issue devoted to the work of Ninian Smart, Religion 31/4 (2001).

Ursula King, "Smart, Ninian," The Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd edition. vol. 12, pp. 8442-8445. Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

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