Thomas Benfey

6th-year Ph.D. student
Email Address:
Office Location: 
Jones Hall


My research concentrates on the intellectual and religious history of Iran (and the Near East more broadly) from the 3rd to the 10th century CE, as I attempt to place Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Middle Persian, New Persian and Syriac texts in an array of genres (e.g., Zoroastrian exegetical works, Neoplatonic philosophical treatises, literary compositions) in their proper context, reconstructing the conversations they were participating in, and the broader diachronic trends they attest to. These days I am particularly focused on the intellectual milieu at the court of Husraw I, the sixth-century Iranian king of kings, and the imperial support for scholarship and translation that characterized his reign, which would be a model for the ʿAbbāsid caliphs of later centuries. Other areas of interest include Sasanian conceptions of the ideal social order and the category of the poor; Manichaeism and its relationship to Sasanian Zoroastrianism; and the intellectual and religious history of the Silk Road.


I grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, where I was fortunate enough to get an early, rigorous start with Russian, Latin, ancient Greek and Japanese. I then went to Yale, where I continued to study each of these languages and majored in Classics, developing interests in historical linguistics, literature, and intellectual history. After graduation I spent about eight months in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, teaching English and studying Russian and Kyrgyz. For much of this time I worked as a live-in English teacher for a prominent general and politician who had played a major role in the 2010 Kyrgyzstan revolution. Some eye-opening visits to archaeological sites and conversations with scholars stoked my interest in the more distant past of Central Asia and neighboring regions, and in 2014 I received an M.A. in Religion (with distinction) from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, where I focused on Zoroastrianism and several related languages.