Early life and education
A graduate of Alborz High School (Tehran, 1966), he received his B.A. from Tehran University in Social Sciences in 1971 and his D.Phil. from the Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oxford University in 1981. He studied with Albert Hourani and John Gurney as well as with Wilferd Madelung, Roger Owen, Hamid Enayat and Wilfred Knapp. The external examiner of his D.Phil. dissertation: "Emergence and Early Development of the Babi Movement, 1844–1850", successfully defended in Hilary 1981, was Ann Lambton. He later was appointed as a fellow of St. Catherine's College, Oxford (1981–1982). At the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences in Tehran University Amanat studied with Gholam Hosain Sadighi, Ehsan Naraghi, Mohammad Khwansari, Ziya al-Din Sajjadi, Ahmad Fardid, Shapur Rasekh, Alimorad Davudi, and Jamshid Behnam.
Amanat is the third child of Mousa Amanat, a businessman (who has also published on the history of Kashan, Iran), and Besharat Khavari-Amanat, a descendant of a family of Jewish physicians from Kashan (whose patriarch, Hakim Harun Kashani, was a prominent member of the Jewish community of Kashan). His paternal grandfather, who converted to the Bahá'í Faith at the turn of the 20th century, was engaged in the silk trade of Kashan. Abbas Amanat is a brother of the architect Hossein Amanat who designed the Shahyad Azadi Tower in Tehran, and Mehrdad Amanat, who is a historian of Iran. Abbas Amanat is married to Maryam Sanjabi-Amanat, a specialist of eighteenth-century French literature, and a Senior Lecturer at the Department of French Studies at Yale University.
Amanat began teaching first in the Program of Religious Studies at SUNY Stony Brook in 1982 and soon after was appointed as assistant professor in the Department of History, Yale University in the fall of 1983. In 2018 he is Professor of History and Director of the Yale Program in Iranian Studies. Amanat is a historian of Iran, Shia Islam, and the modern Middle East. He specializes in Qajar Iran as well as in the history of messianic and apocalyptic movements in the Islamic world. Among other topics he has written about Iranian identity and changing attitudes among Iranians over time. Amanat was a Carnegie Scholar of Islamic Studies (2005–2007) and the recipient of the Mellon-Sawyer Grant for comparative study of millennialism (1998–2001). He was the Editor-in-Chief of Iranian Studies, journal of the International Association for Iranian Studies (1991–98), and Chair of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale University (1993–2004).
Amanat is the Consulting Editor for Qajar History at the Encyclopaedia Iranicaand member of the Board of Directors of Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation. He is the author of 25 entries in the Encyclopaedia Iranicaon the history of the Qajar period including: "Constitutional Revolution," "Court and Courtiers: Qajar Period," "Fath 'Ali Shah Qajar," "Great Britain: British Influence in Persia in the 19th Century," "Historiography: Qajar Period," "Historiography: Pahlavi Period," "Islam in Iran: Messianic Movements," and "Hajji Baba of Ispahan.'
Amanat has published numerous journal articles and contributed to volumes of essays. He also edited and co-edited several volumes including most recently with Assef Ashraf, The Persianate World: Rethinking A Shared Space, Leiden and Boston, Brill Publishers, 2018 and with Farzin Vejdani, Iran Facing Others: Identity Boundaries in Historical Perspective New York, Palgrave MacMillan, January 2012.
- Amanat, Abbas (March 1, 1989). Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844–1850. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801420986. (In this study of millennarian movements in Shi'i Iran and Iraq Amanat draws attention to complementary cultural, religious and socioeconomic contexts. He views messianic movements as agents of renewal and indigenous reform often in contrast to the religious establishment and its dry and legalistic interpretation of Islam with a regressive worldview. Utilizing new material, he reexamines the life and time of the founder of the movement, the Bab, and career of the celebrated Babi leader and poetess Qurrat al-'Ayn (Taherah) and her contribution to the shaping of the movement.)
- Amanat, Abbas (November 15, 2008). The Pivot of the Universe: Nasir al-Din Shah and the Iranian Monarchy, 1831-1896. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1845118280.(The life and political career of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar is the material for a case study of tensions within the institution of Persian monarchy and its encounter with forces of modernity. Its Persian translation: Qebleh-e Alam (trans. Hasan Kamshad, Tehran: Nashr Karnameh, 2004) stirred much debate especially with reference to the revisionist treatment of the celebrated premier Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Kabir)
- Amanat, Abbas (March 15, 2009). Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1845119812.(looking at diverse trends in Iranian Shi'ism and within the broader context of Islamic apocalyptic movements, this book argues how ancient apocalyptic trends reemerged during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and exploited afterwards by the state)
- Amanat, Abbas; Vahman, Fereydun (August 1, 2016). Az Tehran Ta Akka: Babiyan Va Bahaiyan Dar Asnad Dowran-E Qajar. Ashkaar Publishers. ISBN 9780997676907.(this is a documentary history of the Babi movement in exile and during the birth of the Baha'i Faith viewed through the lens of Iranian and Ottoman officials)
- Amanat, Abbas (October 24, 2017). Iran: A Modern History. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300112542. This is a critical history of half a millennium of political, socioeconomic and cultural history of Iran from the rise of the Safavid Empire to the 1979 revolution and its aftermath. Since its publication it has been positively reviewed among other places in The Economist, Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, the Sunday Times and the Literary Review.
- Iran: A Modern History (2017)
- Az Tehran ta 'Akka (2016)
- Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi’ism (2009)
- Pivot of the Universe: Nasir al-Din Shah and the Iranian Monarchy, 1831-1896 (1997)
- Resurrection and Renewal: the Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (1989) 
- Crowning Anguish: Memoirs of a Persian Princess from the Harem to Modernity (1995)
- Iran Facing Others: Identity Boundaries in a Historical Perspective (2012)
- Is There a Middle East?: The Evolution of a Geopolitical Concept (2011)
- Shari’a: Islamic Law in the Contemporary Context (2007)
- U.S.-Middle East Historical Encounters: A Critical Survey (2007)
- Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from Ancient Middle East to Modern America (2002)
- Cities and Trade: Consul Abbot on the Economy and Society of Iran, 1847-1866 (London: Ithaca Press, 1983)
- "Abbas Amanat". Yale University. Retrieved June 5, 2016.
- "Apocalyptic Islam: Interview with Dr. Abbas Amanat". Payvand.com.
- Nile Green (24 November 2015). The Love of Strangers: What Six Muslim Students Learned in Jane Austen's London. Princeton University Press. pp. 329–. ISBN 978-1-4008-7413-2.
- Farzaneh Milani (1992). Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers. Syracuse University Press. pp. 254–. ISBN 978-0-8156-0266-8.
- Hamid Dabashi (7 May 2012). Shi'ism. Harvard University Press. pp. 374–. ISBN 978-0-674-05875-0.
- Abbas Milani (2000). The Persian Sphinx: Amir Abbas Hoveyda and the Riddle of the Iranian Revolution : a Biography. I.B.Tauris. pp. 352–. ISBN 978-1-85043-328-6.