British-born American philosopher, teacher of Zen Buddhism,
and pioneer popularizer of Eastern philosophy in the
United States. Watts was born January 6, 1915, in Chislehurst,
Kent, England. He came to the United States in 1938, and he
was naturalized in 1943. The same year he moved to the United
States he married the daughter of Ruth Fuller Everett (who was
involved with the First Zen Institute of America). Even as a
youth he had been interested in Eastern religions in general
and Zen Buddhism in particular. However, Watts studied for
the priesthood and after completing his course at SeaburyWestern
Theological Seminary, he was ordained in the Episcopal
Church in 1944. He remained in Evanston, Illinois, and
pursued a master of sacred theology degree (1948) at Seabury
while serving as a chaplain at Northwestern University (adjacent
to the Seabury campus) for six years (1944–50).
In 1950 Watts divorced, resigned from the priesthood, and
entered a year of seclusion. In 1951 he moved to California as
an instructor at the American Academy of Asian Studies
(1951–57). He gained some degree of fame in 1957 with the
positive response to his book, The Way of Zen (1957), which became
a book introducing Zen to a public eager for Eastern wisdom.
Over the next fifteen years he wrote numerous books presenting
his personal appropriation of Buddhism. As a lecturer,
from 1956 onward he traveled to universities across the continent.
He directed the Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life series on
station KQED, San Francisco (1959–60).
In 1962 some of those who had gathered around him as students
founded the Society for Comparative Philosophy as a vehicle
for his teaching. He died November 16, 1973.
Sources
Melton, J. Gordon. Religious Leaders of America. Detroit Gale
Research, 1991.
Stuart, David. Alan Watts. Radnor, Pa. Chilton Book, 1976.
Watts, Alan. The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You
Are. New York Vintage Books, 1966.
———. The Early Writings of Alan Watts. Edited by John
Snelling. Berkeley, Calif. Celestial Arts, 1987.
———. The Essential Alan Watts. Berkeley, Calif. Celestial
Arts, 1977.
———. In My Own Way An Autobiography, 1915–1945. New
York Pantheon Books, 1972.
———. Psychotherapy, East and West. New York Ballantine
Books, 1961.
———. The Spirit of Zen. New York Grove Press, 1958.
———. The Way of Zen. New York Pantheon Books, 1968.