Benedict was born in Washington, D.C. on August 20, 1949 to the acclaimed astrophysicist William S. Benedict and the medical doctor and well-known print collector Ruth B. Benedict. He is the product of the Washington, D.C. public school system, having graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1966.
Benedict received his B.A. from Cornell University in 1970, where he studied early modern European history with H.G. Koenigsberger. He completed his M.A. in 1972 and his Ph.D. in 1975 at Princeton University, under the direction of Theodore K. Rabb and Lawrence Stone. While conducting his dissertation research in France, Benedict also followed the seminar of Denis Richet at what was then the VIe Section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études.
Benedict’s publications have ranged from economic history to the history of printmaking and information, but have chiefly focused on the social and political history of the Reformation, with primary reference to the French Wars of Religion and the Protestant minority in sixteenth and seventeenth-century France.
Benedict's first book, Rouen during the Wars of Religion, has been described as a "model study of the interaction of social, religious, and political factors in French religious wars" by the American Historical Association Guide to Historical Literature. His Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism was awarded the 2003 Philip Schaff Prize from the American Society of Church History, and the 2004 Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Prize from The Renaissance Society of America.
In contrast to Denis Crouzet and Natalie Davis, who have explored the motivations and psychology behind Roman Catholic religious violence in early modern France, Benedict has illuminated the reasons that Huguenots engaged in religious violence against Catholics. He has identified three important factors that inspired French Protestants to wage war against their Catholic adversaries: (1) John Calvin’s condemnation of “Nicodemism,” (2) Reformed polemical treatises and sermons against Catholic images, and (3) the Huguenot belief that the 1562 Edict of January was under direct assault by overzealous Catholics, and thus needed to be defended by force of arms.
Before relocating to Switzerland in 2005 to accept his position at l'Institut d’histoire de la Réformation, Benedict taught at Brown University for 26 years, where he was the Willard Prescott and Annie McClelland Smith Professor of Religious Studies.
He has held visiting positions or fellowships at Cornell University, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, All Souls College, Oxford, the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (Paris), the Lumière University Lyon 2, Humboldt University (Berlin), and the National Gallery of Art's Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (Washington, D.C.).
Graduate students, doctoral candidates, and professors travel to Geneva every summer from institutions across Europe and North America to participate in the Institut d'histoire de la Réformation's intensive graduate seminars (cours d'été), which are taught by Benedict and his colleagues. He has also supervised the dissertations of important late medieval and early modern historians, including Michael Breen, Larissa Taylor, and Liam Brockey.
- — (22 January 2004) . Rouen During the Wars of Religion. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-54797-0.
- — (1991). The Huguenot Population of France, 1600-1685: The Demographic Fate and Customs of a Religious Minority. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISSN 00659746.
- — (2001). The faith and fortunes of France's Huguenots, 1600-85. Aldershot: Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-0225-5.
- — (2002). Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-08812-0.
- — (2007). Graphic History: The Wars, Massacres and Troubles of Tortorel and Perrissin. Geneva: Librairie Droz. ISBN 978-2-600-00440-4. Revised and abridged French translation, — (2012). Le regard saisit l'histoire : Les Guerres, Massacres et Troubles de Tortorel et Perrissin. Geneva: Librairie Droz. ISBN 978-2-600-00547-0.
Edited and Co-Edited Volumes
- — (2007) . Cities and Social Change in Early Modern France. Geneva: Librairie Droz. ISBN 978-2-600-00440-4.
- With Marnef, G.; van Nierop, H.; Venard, M. (1999). Reformation, revolt and civil war in France and the Netherlands 1555-1585. Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
- With Gutmann, Myron P. (2005). Early Modern Europe: From Crisis to Stability. Newark: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 978-0-87413-906-8.
- With Menchi, Silvana Seidel; Tallon, Alain (2007). La réforme en France et en Italie: contacts, comparaisons et contrastes : [actes du colloque international de Rome, 27-29 octobre 2005]. Rome: École française de Rome. ISBN 978-2-7283-0790-6.
- With Backus, Irena (8 September 2011). Calvin and His Influence, 1509-2009. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-975184-6.
- With Fornerod, Nicolas (2012). L'organisation et l'action des églises réformées de France. Geneva: Librairie Droz. ISBN 978-2-600-01603-2.
Notable Chapters in Edited Volumes
- — (21 September 1995) . "The Historiography of Continental Calvinism". In Lehmann, Hartmut; Roth, Guenther. Weber's Protestant Ethic: Origins, Evidence, Contexts. Cambridge University Press. pp. 205–326. ISBN 978-0-521-55829-7.
- — (20 June 2002) . "Un roi, une loi, deux fois: parameters for the history of Catholic-Reformed co-existence in France, 1555–1685". In Grell, Ole Peter; Scribner, Bob. Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 65–93. ISBN 978-0-521-89412-8.
- — (2006). "Religion and Politics in Europe, 1500–1700". In Von Greyerz, Kaspar; Siebenhüner, Kim. Religion und Gewalt: Konflikte, Rituale, Deutungen (1500-1800). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. pp. 155–174. ISBN 978-3-525-35867-2.
- — (2009) . "The Saint Bartholomew's Massacres in the Provinces". The Historical Journal 21 (02): 205–225. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00000510.
- — (1996). "Faith, Fortune, and Social Structure in Seventeenth-Century Montpellier". Past & Present 152 (1): 46–78. doi:10.1093/past/152.1.46. Awarded the Nancy Lyman Roelker Prize by the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference.
- — (2008). "Divided memories? Historical calendars, commemorative processions and the recollection of the Wars of Religion during the ancien regime". French History 22 (4): 381–405. doi:10.1093/fh/crn046.
- With Fornerod, Nicolas (2009). "Les 2150 "églises" réformées de France de 1561-1562". Revue historique 651 (3): 529–560. doi:10.3917/rhis.093.0529.
- — (2012). "Prophets in Arms? Ministers in War, Ministers on War: France 1562-74". Past & Present 214 (suppl 7): 163–196. doi:10.1093/pastj/gtr022. ISSN 0031-2746.
- "Prof. Philip Benedict". Institut d'histoire de la Réformation. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
- Stoop, José Stoop,. "Benedict Spectroscopy Award: Nominations now closed". Elsevier.
- Burchard, Hank (March 4, 1994). "The Bounty of Benedict". Washington Post. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
- American Historical Association Guide to Historical Literature. 3rd Edition: 834. 1995.
- "Former grant and prize winners". American Society of Church History. 2007. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- "Gordan Prize Winners". The Renaissance Society of America. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
- Benedict, Philip (1999). "The Dynamics of Protestant Militancy: France, 1555-1563". Reformation, Revolt and Civil War in France and the Netherlands, 1555-1585.
- "Nancy Lyman Roelker Prize". Sixteenth Century Society & Conference. 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2013.