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Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  405 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews

Huston Smith, the author of the classic bestseller The World's Religions, delivers a passionate, timely message: The human spirit is being suffocated by the dominant materialistic worldview of our times. Smith champions a society in which religion is once again treasured and authentically practiced as the vital source of human wisdom.

Kindle Edition, 306 pages
Published (first published December 26th 2000)
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Chenoa Siegenthaler
I picked this up off my uncle's shelf thinking that it would be some kind of fundamentalist Christian argument for why people should be Christian. But upon seeing that it was written by Huston Smith, I decided to check it out - and it's amazing! It's more about why what we commonly think of as spirituality matters - and it addressed some fundamental conflicts that I'd been dealing with in myself. For instance, the fundamental disbelief in anything "more" than what can be proven by an empirical e ...more
Mar 24, 2009 John rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the meaning of life
Recommended to John by: Marcus Borg in The Heart of Christianity
Shelves: ownebook, religion
This review was originally posted on my blog.

Most of the book deals with things we already know yet never learn.

-- Huston Smith

This is perhaps one of the most enlightening books I've ever read, and yet I feel like I've only grasped a small bit of its meaning. It is with that warning that I attempt this review.

I should add at the outset that this is one of those books where no matter what you expect it to be, after reading it, you will find that it wasn't what you expected.

I heartily recommend it
Jul 29, 2011 Kay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who are interested in examining the world views of the 20th century
Recommended to Kay by: Toyce Collins
Shelves: favorites
As I was reading Why Religion Matters I thought about The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. To me both authors make a strong case that God is not dead. While Karen Armstrong refers to mostly Judeo-Christian religious artifacts and texts in history to make her case, Huston Smith tackles the issue of "Big Picture" mostly by referring to the works of various thinkers, philosophers, and scientists throughout western history.

The tone of writing in Why Religion Matters may seem abrasive and dense. Howe
Karen Mcintyre
Jun 27, 2008 Karen Mcintyre rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I believe there may have been a time when the world changed at a much slower pace -- when information was something that could be consumed slowly --- savored --- mulled over ---(maybe in the middle ages) but now the world changes in exponential ways and it is helpful to have someone of Smith's stature offer insight into how our post modern world organizes data.

His approach is very mid-century in its reliance on analytical thought, but at the same time he doesn't deny the mystical glimpses of a w
Heather Smith
Jan 16, 2013 Heather Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With Why Religion Matters Huston Smith, a lifelong eminent scholar of religion issues a manifesto for the continuing relevance of traditional religious beliefs, arguing that the broad outlines of traditional religious worldviews are superior to the worldview of scientism, which has become modernity's reigning dogma. Both confirmed secular humanists and and religious fundamentalists especially should read this book, as it harbors surprises for both. Smith punctures the shibboleths of each of thes ...more
Mar 14, 2017 Timber rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a difficult book for me to get through as philosophy is not my strong suit. But, I learned a tremendous amount from this book and it definitely left me with lessons that I will not soon forget. It is a book I am sure I will reference back to many times in the future.
Mar 03, 2017 Adam rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I started and ended this books as soon as I got 3 chapters in. His writing style is horrible. Its out dated. And honestly bored the shit out of me.
Talbot Hook
May 12, 2015 Talbot Hook rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It is unfortunate that I should rate this book with one star. After all, the author and I agree about quite a few things. Sadly, there were just too many crossroads where he and I parted ways. And, the writing style of the book was truly horrible; it was a messy labyrinth of name-dropping, anecdotes, page-long quotes, and headings, all placed willy-nilly around his central Tunnel theme, which ended up being drowned in peripheral dross.

Writing aside, I agree with his central point that materiali
Apr 29, 2010 Wade rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
I was looking forward to reading this book by the respected and acclaimed religion scholar Huston Smith. He begins by explaining that each major historical era has offered a unique and significant contribution to humanity. The pre-modern era (before 1600) provided insight into the metaphysical world through religion, art and philosophy. The modern era gave us the scientific method which provided a new way to understand our physical world. Post-modern society (beginning in the 1950’s) brought an ...more
Feb 11, 2016 Jason rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think Huston Smith is both a smart and wise man. His research, training, and experience make him uniquely qualified to write a book about why religion (and not just "spirituality," as he qualifies it,) still matters in our society.

This isn't that book.

This book's biggest problem is one of tactics.

Smith's stated intention with his book is to simultaneously demonstrate the blind spots in a strictly scientific worldview and to demonstrate how religion can add value and insight. To that end, he ma
Geoff Glenister
Nov 20, 2015 Geoff Glenister rated it it was ok
It is unfortunate that I feel I have to rate this book so low - Smith and I have many areas of agreement. But there were some problems with this book. First off, it's out of date. Smith's view of where the world is can be summed up in the following quote:
Peter Berger’s justly famous quip has caught on: “If India is the most religious country on our planet, and Sweden is the least religious, America is a land of Indians ruled by Swedes.” The next chapter will document his point as it relates to l
Huston Smith's Why Religion Matters is, at its core, the author's personal apologetic of a third-millennium mystical spirituality loosely rooted in one and more of humanity's great religious traditions. Despite the book's title, the text is more spiritual and personal than it is sociological or from a distance. Smith writes on the liminal boundary, somehow, both passionately within faith-based worldviews and dispassionately outside them.[return][return]Very much written to an American audience, ...more
Apr 14, 2009 Neal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In a few words: genuine, iconoclastic, erudite, personal, poignant, effective. Huston Smith, the well-known leader in world religions, has written a book so timely as to be uncanny. He uses anecdotes (both personal and otherwise) to reify a rather abstract point, and it works time and time again. This age, or epoch, since the Enlightenment, has been driven by a goal to subdue the universe to our understanding and utilization, both in science and technology. The ramifications of this are widespre ...more
Feb 23, 2009 Ellyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2005
I have friends who absolutely love this author, who is a big-time religious scholar, but I struggled with this book. The author suggests that our society is dominated by a scientific worldview that places humans and material things at the center and that presumes that science is the only reliable path to truth. As a result, the metaphysical, which was such a central component of traditional societies, is discounted because it cannot be proven scientifically. The author argues that a return to a ...more
Jan 24, 2012 Joey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not light reading, but still a very interesting book. The author does a great job of describing the three ages of the world: traditional, modern, and post-modern. He says we should preserve the best of each: the social justice of the postmodern age, the science of the modern age, and especially the transcendent worldview of the traditional age. A lot of the book is dedicated to explaining the differences between science and scientism (belief in the universal applicability of the scientific metho ...more
Sep 18, 2015 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I could, I would give it 4.6 stars, as I try to reserve my 5's only for the greatest works in history. Nevertheless, this book deserves more than four stars. It is extraordinary in its scope, depth, and creativity. Smith primarily addresses the the rationalstic, scientistic (his word) mindset that is dominant in our time with a sane word about faith. I could wish he had also written a second volume dealing with "Why Religion Matters" from an ethical perspective. but I give him a pass on that ...more
Would have liked the book more were it not bogged down with so many digressions. Too many anecdotes, too many tangents on some of the issues that were raised. Otherwise, I found Huston's points interesting, though I do not fully agree with what he's suggesting. He wisely avoids too much discussion of religion's charitable functions or the notion that ethics require religious values, instead focusing on the internal and communal meaning it can imbue. What I primarily liked was that it allowed me ...more
Mar 26, 2010 Mythili rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm finding this really hard to read. I admire Huston Smith the scholar and Huston Smith the seeker, but in this book it seems the narrator is Huston Smith the soon-to-be-obsolete professional, and all he can talk about is the injustice of the death of his profession. What I thought (judging by this book's title and author) would be a compelling argument for the vital place of religious tradition in contemporary life is instead an extended diatribe on the erosion of respect for religion and reli ...more
Oct 22, 2008 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I very informative and in depth look at why having a traditional world view is essential. I personally did not agree with everything Mr. Smith had to say but I decided to give it 4 stars just on the plethora of information that was put forth. Honestly, the book disappointed me by the way it ended. I felt that he was building the reader up the whole time for a strong knock out punch only to sort of fizzle and fade. I still would recommend this book simply because Mr. Smiths strength is his abilit ...more
Sep 22, 2010 Carolyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was disappointed in Smith's thesis. I had hoped to find positive reasons and commentary on why religion matters to human beings, but he was much more interested in proving the "scientistic" worldview wrong than in celebrating what in humanity celebrates the sacred and the holy. As a religion scholar he had the knowledge of religions to write a positive, hopeful book instead of the rather shallow diatribe he gave us. I do better understand the defensive posture of some conservative religious wo ...more
I read this to see if there was a coherent argument about how a thinking person could believe in a non-material world. Huston Smith offered no such argument, he merely said that non-material worldviews exist (obvious) and that he prefers them to material worldviews (a matter of taste). Ultimately disappointing for my purposes, but not without its insights into the thinking process of a thoughtful believer.
Valerie Powers
Mar 15, 2012 Valerie Powers rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was thrust upon me by a college professor, and I have grand plans to torch this tepid piece-o-crap that haunted me all semester. By far, one of the most absurd reads I've encountered...and I heart reading.
Jun 17, 2013 Ethan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good read, although it is a bit rambling at times. Huston Smith is a brilliant thinker, and his book argues very well for why religion should not be dismissed by the increasingly secular world and against the materialism that would banish religion from modern worldviews.
Jun 10, 2012 Brenda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this again. I would recommend it to everyone. Whether you "believe" or not...or regardless of what you believe...there is no denying the human NEED to believe in something. Even declaring you "believe" in nothing associates you with a "belief".
Sep 28, 2008 Shelli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-religions
One of the greatest voices in studies of world religions. Huston's words are always worth reading and contemplating!
Nov 14, 2008 Will rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
“You can’t understand anything unless you unless you understand everything.”

Mar 24, 2016 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
WHAT a powerful book.
Megan Salyer
Jul 09, 2012 Megan Salyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First book I read by him that had me wanting more!
Ray A.
As author of the classic "The World's Religions," Smith has a unique perspective on the problem facing the human spirit in a modern and post-modern culture.
Nisrin Arnouk
May 30, 2015 Nisrin Arnouk rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It may have been the translation but I did not enjoy this book AT ALL!!!
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Smith was born in Suzhou, China to Methodist missionaries and spent his first 17 years there. He taught at the Universities of Colorado and Denver from 1944–1947, moving to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri for the next ten years, and then Professor of Philosophy at MIT from 1958–1973. While at MIT he participated in some of the experiments with entheogens that professor Timothy Leary c ...more
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“Most of the book deals with things we already know yet never learn.” 3 likes
“Emerson argued that “the whole secret of the teacher’s force lies in the conviction that men are convertible, and they are. They want awakening, [and for that purpose they need teachers] to get the soul out of bed, out of her deep habitual sleep.” That” 0 likes
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