- Fulbright Award (1994)
- MacArthur Fellow (1984)
Elliot Sperling was one of the world’s leading historians of Tibet and Tibet-China relations. He served on the faculty of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at IU Bloomington from 1986 to 2015 where he taught Tibetan studies courses. He received his B.A. from Queens College, City University of New York in 1973, his M.A. from Indiana University in 1980, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1983. Prior to joining IU, Sperling’s first faculty appointment was at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). In 1984, soon after joining the faculty of USM, he received the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship as a Tibetan studies scholar.
After a brief time at USM, Sperling returned to IU as a visiting lecturer and then visiting assistant professor of Uralic and Altaic studies, now the Department of Central Eurasian Studies, in 1986. In 1987, he was reappointed as an assistant professor of Uralic and Altaic studies while also serving as the assistant director of the Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, Research and Graduate Development at IU. He served as a visiting professor at Harvard University from 1992 to 1993 and was promoted to associate professor at IU in 1993. During the 1994-1995 academic year, Sperling served as a Fulbright fellow lecturing at Jawaharlal Nehru University and the University of Delhi in India. From 2000 to 2007, he took on the additional title of chair of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies. He retired from IU in December of 2015.
Sperling was a renowned scholar, teacher, and mentor as well as an advocate for human rights which was especially seen in his most recent outspoken support for Ilham Tohti, a Uighar scholar who was sentenced to life in prison for criticizing China’s treatment of minorities in 2014. Previously in his career, he had also served on the Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad for the U.S. Department of State from 1996 to 1999.
Sperling passed away on January 29, 2017 at age 66.