As Frederick M. Ranallo-Higgins F’22 worked on his PhD in Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles, he kept coming back to the same questions: “Who am I doing this for? Am I just doing this for this little bubble of academics who all already know what I’m talking about?”
“It had bothered me my entire academic career,” he said. “It felt very insular, but it was difficult to figure out how to do what I was doing in any other way or any other fashion … As soon as I saw the Buddhism Public Scholars opportunity, I thought, this is the perfect match for me.”
Now, in his second year as a Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Buddhism Public Scholar placed with the Tricycle Foundation in New York, NY, Ranallo-Higgins works as the associate editor of their magazine, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Established over 30 years ago, Tricycle is dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available, a great fit for Ranallo-Higgins’ passion for public engagement and his goal for a career outside academia.
“I was a non-traditional, older student, so it was important for me to get experience like this right off the bat,” Ranallo-Higgins said. “I found that invaluable, as well as networking and meeting people that are involved in Tricycle. It’s difficult to underestimate the impact that Tricycle has had on the Buddhist world in the United States. The whole reason that I got on the Buddhist path was through Tricycle magazine back in the nineties.”
So much is produced at universities that never reaches the lay public. How can we take that material and make it accessible to people who are not experts? Fred was ideal for that … he can take very complex ideas and render them comprehensible to an educated public.
Editor-in-Chief of Tricycle magazine
Left: James Shaheen and Frederick M. Ranallo-Higgins F’22 at Tricycle‘s office in New York
The Buddhism Public Scholars Program places recent PhDs in professional positions with leading museums, libraries, and publishers that present and interpret knowledge of Buddhist traditions. Ranallo-Higgins is one of six Buddhism Public Scholars working across the country to strengthen the capacity of their host organizations in Buddhist art and thought.
James Shaheen, editor-in-chief of Tricycle, heard about the program from Donald Lopez, Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan and senior advisor to The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies. Shaheen was immediately interested. While the publication has long been connected to the academic world, he wanted someone on staff who could discern what scholars to feature and distill complicated ideas and the latest research for their readers. Ranallo-Higgins has interviewed a number of prominent academics in the field for the magazine, including Jacqueline Stone and David McMahan.
“We have an educated lay audience,” Shaheen explained. “They’re not academics, but they’re lawyers, they’re doctors, they’re social workers. My feeling was that so much is produced at universities that never reaches the lay public. How can we take that material and make it accessible to people who are not experts? Fred was ideal for that … he can take very complex ideas and render them comprehensible to an educated public.”
One of the skills that I think is specific to PhD studies is critical thinking, close analysis, and being able to look at things with a particular eye.
Frederick Ranallo-Higgins F’22
One of the biggest projects Ranallo-Higgins has undertaken is revamping “Buddhism for Beginners,” a free, educational section of the Tricycle website. His experience teaching undergraduates proved invaluable to the endeavor.
“Having worked at UCLA and taught ‘Intro to Buddhism,’ it was an excellent way to combine my skills and learn how to make that information more accessible for non-students and non-specialists,” Ranallo-Higgins said. “I thought it was a perfect merging of my skills with their needs here.”
Along with project management skills developed while writing a multi-year dissertation, Ranallo-Higgins credits his smooth transition at Tricycle to the research and analytical experience honed in the course of earning his PhD.
“One of the skills that I think is specific to PhD studies is critical thinking, close analysis, and being able to look at things with a particular eye,” he said. “That translates well into this job, because at Tricycle we deal with aspects of Buddhism that are complex and sometimes the nuances are subtle.”
Shaheen noted the importance of Ranallo-Higgins redesigning “Buddhism for Beginners,” adding, “That was a real benefit, because conveying basic knowledge of Buddhism isn’t as easy as it sounds: how to be accessible and accurate and somewhat comprehensive. I just breathed this huge sigh of relief because it’s a project that is now growing and it’s very important to us to introduce responsible, accurate, informed content to people who don’t know about Buddhism.”
Read the latest articles by Frederick M. Ranallo-Higgins on his Tricycle staff page.
Apply to be a Buddhism Public Scholar
Apply by Jan. 18, 2024, 9:00 PM
ACLS is now accepting applications for the next round of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Buddhism Public Scholars Program.
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