Christopher Beckwith


Distinguished Professor (2017)
Indiana University Bloomington
School of Global and International Studies
Department of Central Eurasian Studies
Fulbright Award (2008)
Fulbright Award
Location: Austria
Fulbright Award (2004)
Fulbright Hays Faculty Award
Location: Japan
Guggenheim Fellow (2004)
Indiana University Bloomington
MacArthur Fellow (1986)
Indiana University Bloomington
Department of Central Eurasian Studies


Christopher Beckwith received a B.A. in Chinese from Ohio State University in 1968 before earning his M.A. in Tibetan in 1974 and his Ph.D. in Inner Asian Studies in 1977, both from Indiana University. He has taught at IU for 41 years, beginning in 1976 as a part-time lecturer and has been Professor in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies since 1994. His IU affiliations include the Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics, and Society; Program in Ancient Studies; Southeast Asian Studies Program; Dhar India Studies Program; East Asian studies Center; and the Medieval Studies Institute.

"Beckwith is definitely, and for three decades at least, a scholar of international rank, and one of the most prolific and versatile researchers in the field of Central Asian studies." He is renowned for his pioneering scholarship that reshapes our understanding of how, why, and when the Central Eurasian steppe people from Hungary to Tibet influenced the development of knowledge, religious beliefs, and societies not only in their own areas but in the west as well. "Beckwith's work has spanned the whole of Eurasia, with a particular accent on Central/Inner Eurasia and East Asia, and has dealt with historical, culturological, philological/linguistic and philosophical questions of great, often transcontinental importance. He has advanced new perspectives, revised old theories (relegating some to the proverbial dustbin of history) and highlighted new or often neglected connections across Eurasia." Known for his "Galileo-like commitment to the integrity of results…He is truly a genius of area and humanistic studies."

In his most recent book Greek Buddha (2015), on the development of Buddhism, Beckwith challenged long-held conventional views on the origins and impact of early Buddhism, marshalled new and compelling evidence about the sociopolitical and cultural settings in which Buddhism arose and the Buddha himself was shaped, and demonstrated the interconnections between Buddhist and Greek thought and the interchange of ideas that flowed via people from east to west and back again - globalization during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. This text "upend[s] received truths on the philosophical geography of Eurasia" and "is chock full of daring yet substantiated premises." In Warriors of the Cloisters (2012), Beckwith discovered the vital roles played by the peoples of Central Asia not only in honing and transmitting science to medieval Europe but also in contributing to the development of intellectual institutions, the precursors of our own academic institutions. From the specifics of Tibetan political and cultural history to the integration of politics, societies, faiths, and peoples from China to Central Europe, Beckwith's global synthesis of why humans interact and how such interactions produce both highly beneficial and extremely destructive consequences is best illustrated in his magisterial Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (2009). Like his other volumes, this one has been re-published many times, including in e-versions, and translated into several languages.

MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, Guggenheim Fellow, Fulbright-Hayes Fellow, Japan Foundation Fellow - these are just some of the many honors bestowed upon Professor Beckwith in addition to visiting appointments in Taiwan (Chih-li College), Hawaii (University of Hawaii), Japan (National Museum of Ethnology; Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), France (École Pratique des Hautes Études), Austria (University of Vienna), England (Oxford) and throughout the United States. The author of 10 books and 49 articles, he has developed and taught 48 distinct courses (offering them multiple times each) during his time at Indiana University. "There is no question that, in terms of range and variety, as well as in terms of depth and expertise, no other scholar can boast a comparable record, worldwide…There is no other scholar quite like Christopher Beckwith: his oeuvre is vast and important."