Browse Entire Collection

Document Type


Interview Date



What led you to the study of religion?

Dr. Ninian Smart discusses what influenced his interest in the study of religion. When he was 18 years old he joined the British army where he was sent to Sri Lanka. He states that when he experienced a civilization that practiced Buddhism, he realized he knew nothing about the religion. When he began his graduate studies at Oxford, he was inspired to study religion because of his experiences in the army. But at the time, there were few programs in the study of religion as compared with programs in theology. He became part of the revolutionary move to the more objective examination of religious systems that became known as religious studies.

Streaming Media


Playing Time: 3:11

About the Interviewee:

Dr. Ninian Smart was educated at Glasgow University and at Queen’s College, Oxford. He held teaching appointments at Yale University, London University, Banaras Hindu University and Birmingham University. He became the founding Professor of Religious Studies at Lancaster University in 1967 and in 1976 he came to the University of California at Santa Barbara as the first J.F. Rowny Professor in the Comparative Study of Religions and spent part of each year at that institution and at Lancaster University until his retirement from Lancaster in 1982.

A prolific author/lecturer, his book The World’s Religions (1989) reached a considerable popular readership. He pioneered the defense of religious studies as a secular discipline which helped the formation of departments in many public universities, especially in the United States. During his life-time of scholarship, he held the presidencies of major learned societies in the study of religions, notably the American Academy of Religion, the largest professional society for Religious Studies in the Americas. Dr. Smart died in his native England in 2001.

About the Interviewer:

Dr. Alfred Benney is a professor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University. He has a Ph.D in Theology from the Hartford Seminary Foundation and teaches courses in Non-Traditional American Religions and Christian Religious Thought. His research interests include "how people learn"; "the appropriate use of technology in teaching/learning" and "myth as explanatory narrative". He has published work on teaching with technology.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.