Frank E. Reynolds (1930 -2019)

Prof. Frank ReynoldsFrank E. Reynolds, Professor Emeritus of the History of Religions and Buddhist Studies in the Divinity School and the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, died on January 9th. He was 88 years old. 

Prof. Reynolds grew up in Connecticut and was educated at Princeton, Oberlin, and the Yale Divinity School; he was also an ordained Baptist minister. His three years as the program director at the Student Christian Center in Thailand led him to seek a non-sectarian, empirically oriented approach to religious studies, and he returned to the United States, earning his PhD in the History of Religions program at the University of Chicago Divinity School and joining its faculty in 1967. He retired in 2001. 

With interests and publications on topics ranging from Thai civic religion to religious studies in the liberal arts, Professor Reynolds was particularly expert in Theravada Buddhism. Charles S. Hallisey (PhD’88) the Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures at Harvard Divinity School, who studied under Professor Reynolds, wrote that “Frank left his mark on a whole generation of scholars of Theravada Buddhism, both colleagues and students. He shaped how Theravada Buddhism has come to be routinely studied in North America today by historians of religions and area specialists, by textualists as well as by anthropologists.” 

“He trained some of the greatest scholars of Buddhism, and of the broader history of religions, in our generation,” remarked Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Religions. “His influence on both fields has been profound and far-reaching.” 

Professor Reynolds was a teacher and mentor of near-legendary status: “the finest teacher I’ve ever known,” according to Professor Doniger. “He taught me how to teach, everything I know not only about the discipline of the History of Religions, what questions to ask and what answers to value, but also about collegiality. His generosity to his students, and to me, was part of a far deeper and broader virtue that he had in great abundance; a combination of incorruptible integrity, unflinching self-understanding, and genuine concern for other human beings. His decency, goodness, and compassion were blessings to anyone who was lucky enough to know him.” 

A memorial service will take place in spring at the Plainfield Congregational Church in Plainfield, Massachusetts. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be directed to support the efforts of Frank’s student, Koson Srisang, to develop a new, updated mission for the Bangkok Student Christian Center. Checks can be made out to the Plainfield Congregational Church at 1 Church Lane, Plainfield MA, 01070 (please reference the Frank Reynolds Future of the Bangkok SCC Project in the memo line).