Huston Smith: The Six Features Of Religion

In The Illustrated World’s ReligionsHuston Smith chronicles several religions of the world and identifies features that are found throughout. Huston’s they findings “appear so regularly as to suggest that their seeds are in the human make up.”

1. Authority

Religion is as complex as government or medicine, so it stands to reason that talent and attention to its workings will lift some persons above the masses in matters of spirit. Their advice will be sought, and their counsels treasured.

2. Ritual

Religion arose out of celebration and its opposite, bereavement, both of which cry out for collective expression. When tragedy strikes or we all but explode with joy, we want not only to be with people; we want to be with them in ways that strengthen our bonds and relieve our isolation, making us more than the sum of our parts.

3. Explanations

From whence do we come, whither do we go, why are we here? The questions call for answers, and theories soon enter the religious domain.

4. Tradition

In human beings it replaces instinct in conserving what past generations have learned and bequeath it to the present.

5. Grace

The belief and assurance that realist is on our side can be counted on.

6. Mystery

Being finite, the human mind cannot fathom the Infinite that envelops it.


Huston Smith is Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Syracuse University. For fifteen years he was Professor of Philosophy at M.I.T. and for a decade before that he taught at Washington University in St. Louis. Most recently he has served as Visiting Professor of Religious Studies, University of California, Berkeley. (


The excerpt above can be found in The Illustrated World’s Religions published by Harper San Francisco.




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