Renowned for the range of his scholarship and the courses he has developed, Christopher I. Beckwith has joined the ranks of Indiana University’s Distinguished Professors. A researcher in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies in the School of Global and International Studies, he is one of nine IU researchers and artists appointed this year and formally recognized at the Distinguished Professor Symposium on March 20 in Presidents’ Hall at IU Bloomington.
The promotion complements a series of Beckwith’s distinctions, including being named a MacArthur Fellow (in 1986), and receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship, and a Japan Foundation Fellowship. The Distinguished Professorship, IU’s highest distinction for its faculty, is reserved for scholars who have transformed their fields or achieved international recognition.
“I am uninterested in perpetuating existing scholarly views,” says Beckwith, who’s been called an iconoclast; “my interest is, rather, in solving problems that have long been controversial, or have simply been unrecognized.”
The SGIS professor’s role in reshaping scholarly thinking about Central Eurasia is clear, according to one reviewer of Beckwith’s award-winning 2009 monograph Empires of the Silk Road. “He amply succeeds,” writes Doug Hitch, “in showing that Central Eurasia is central to world history rather than peripheral to it.”
Beckwith is renowned for his encyclopedic understanding of cultures and languages across a vast area and along an impressive timeline. “Not many scholars are comfortable working with materials in Chinese, Old Tibetan, Arabic, Old Turkic, and a range of other languages,” continues Hitch, writing in The Journal of the American Oriental Society, “And not many books discuss the Koguryo, whose realm bordered on the Pacific, and the Franks, whose territory touched the Atlantic, on the same page.”
“I do not belong to any easily pigeonholed academic field,” Beckwith concedes, “at least not according to contemporary American university categorization systems.”
Over the course of his 41 years at IU, Beckwith has been invited to lecture at institutions around the United States and the world, and has authored 10 books and over 60 articles.
The wide-ranging nature of Beckwith’s scholarship is evident in the sheer number of courses he has created at IU. In 48 distinct courses, Beckwith has introduced students to subject matter from Central Eurasian history, the Tibetan Empire, Islamic Central Asia, and Early Buddhism, to Early Medieval Europe and its Eastern connections, to Central Eurasian Art and Architecture. Along with many other cultural and historical topics, Beckwith has taught courses in linguistics, as well as on specific languages, most recently including Old Tibetan, Tokharian, Classical Chinese, and Imperial (Biblical) Aramaic.
Nominations for distinguished professorships are made by faculty, alumni, professional colleagues, and students, and reviewed by the University Distinguished Ranks Committee.
You can watch the full Distinguished Professors symposium online.