Professor Bauman is an eclectic scholar, with degrees in English (B.A., Michigan, 1961), Folklore (M.A., Indiana, 1962), Anthropology (M.S., University of Pennsylvania), and American Civilization (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1968), and his scholarly contributions have transcended conventional academic boundaries. Best known for his theoretical and methodological contributions to the ethnographic study of language and performance, Bauman's scholarship, has had an impact on the development of a number of intersecting fields of study, including, folklore, anthropology, history, linguistics, semiotics, and speech communication. His most influential books include Verbal Art as Performance (1977), Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of Speaking and Silence Among Seventeenth-Century Quakers (1983), Story, Performance, and Event: Contextual Studies of Oral Narrative (1986), Voices of Modernity: Language Ideologies and the Production of Social Inequality (with Charles L. Briggs, 2003), which won the Edward Sapir Prize, awarded by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, and A World of Others' Words: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Intertextuality (2004).
His writings have been widely reprinted and translated, and he has lectured at scholarly institutions in South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In the course of his academic career, Bauman has headed two of folklore's major programs, first as Director of the Center for Intercultural Studies in Folklore and Ethnomusicology at the University of Texas, later as Chair of the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. Especially active in graduate education, he has directed more than 60 Ph.D. dissertations in a number of disciplines, and he has won the Distinguished Teaching and Mentoring Award of the University Graduate School. Bauman's professional leadership has been cross-disciplinary.
He has served as president of the Semiotic Society of America, the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, and the Society of Fellows of the American Folklore Society. Among many other professional activities, he has been chair of the Folklife Advisory Council of the Smithsonian Institution, editor of the Journal of American Folklore, and a member of more than 15 editorial boards. He has also been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Folklore Fellow of the Finnish Academy of Sciences, and twice holder of National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships. In 2008, he received the Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award granted by the American Folklore Society.
Bauman received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of his distinguished contributions to Indiana University.