Honorary Degree Citation - Wilfred Cantwell Smith*

by Charles Davis, June 1979

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Wilfred Cantwell Smith, outstanding scholar, creative administrator and acknowledged leader in promoting mutual understanding between people of different religious and cultural traditions.

Born in Toronto, he began his education there, but continued it in Cambridge, England and in Princeton in the States. In between he went to India and became the representative among Muslims of Canadian Overseas Missions Council and there began his long list of publications with the book, Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis.

In 1949 he was appointed Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University, and two years later he organized McGill 's Institute of Islamic Studies. The launching of the Institute allowed him to give institutional expression to a conviction that pervades his life's work, namely that the study of religion is the study of persons and thus a study demanding interpersonal dialogue. He was able to give broader expression to that same conviction in the wider context of a multilateral dialogue among students from a variety of religious traditions when in 1964 he became Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University. After nine years Smith came back to Canada for a period, but Harvard has recently persuaded him to return for the creative task of developing a new programme in religious studies. His continuing strong presence in Canadian life is however shown by his election last month as President of the Canadian Theological Society.

Mr. Chancellor, Smith is one of those select few scholars who change the structure and course of their discipline. He has combined impeccable scholarship of a most rigorous kind with a humane vision of comparative religious studies as our religiously plural world of persons coming through dialogue to a disciplined self consciousness of its own variegated and developing religious life. It is a vision that has inspired and continues to inspire many students.

Mr. Chancellor, it is a distinct honour to present to you, on behalf of the Senate, and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

* deceased