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, becoming a part-time Assistant Professor in 1978. He has been Full 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.
Over the last three decades, Beckwith has been 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 steppe people from Hungary to Korea 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 Eurasia (Inner Asia) 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.
In his most recent book Greek Buddha (2015), on the development of Buddhism, Beckwith challenges long-held conventional views on the origins and impact of early Buddhism, marshalls new and compelling evidence about the sociopolitical and cultural settings in which Buddhism arose and the Buddha himself was shaped, and demonstrates 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. In Warriors of the Cloisters (2012), Beckwith has 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 central Eurasian political and cultural history to the integration of politics, societies, faiths, and peoples from China to Central Europe, Beckwith's global synthesis of human interaction 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 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 Japan (National Museum of Ethnology; Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), France (École Pratique des Hautes Études), Austria (University of Vienna), Germany (Ruhr-Universität Bochum), England (Oxford) and throughout the United States. The author of 10 books and 66 articles, he has developed and taught 48 distinct courses (offering them multiple times each) during his time at Indiana University.
Beckwith received the IU Bicentennial Medal in July 2020 in recognition of his distinguished service to Indiana University.