Ninian Smart was born in Cambridge England in 1927. Smart attended the Glasgow Academy before joining the military in 1945 serving until 1948 in the British Army Intelligence Corps. Leaving the army as a Captain with a scholarship to Queen’s College University of Oxford he reverted to his Glasgow major Classics and Philosophy. However for his B.Phil. work, he returned to world religions, writing what he came to consider the first dissertation in Oxford on philosophy of religion after World War II. After teaching in the University of Wales from 1952 to 1955 he was a visiting lecturer at Yale University.
In 1956 he was appointed Lecturer in the University of London, then in 1961 he became the first H. G. Wood Professor of Theology at Birmingham, one of the largest departments of theology, where he also served as head of the department.
In 1967 he established the first department of Religious Studies in the United Kingdom at the new University of Lancaster where he was also Pro-Vice Chancellor. In 1976 he became the first J.F. Rowny Professor in the Comparative Study of Religions at University of California at Santa Barbara California. He was also visiting professor at Varanasi in India, Wisconsin, Princeton, Queensland and the respected Religious Studies department at Lampeter in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Lectures delivered in Delhi were published as The Yogi and the Devotee (1968). In 1996 he was named the Academic Senate’s Research Professor the highest professorial rank at Santa Barbara. In 2000 he was elected President of the American Academy of Religion while simultaneously retaining his status as President of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. Smart held both titles at the time of his passing in 2001.
His major publications include 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), Dimensions of the Sacred: An Anatomy of the World's Beliefs (1996).