Born in Dresden, Rudolph studied Protestant theology, religion, history and Semitology at the universities of Greifswald and Leipzig in the years 1948 to 1953. Subsequently, for six years, he was research assistant while he worked in parallel towards doctorates in theology and religious history. In 1961, he received his habilitation in religious history and comparative religion.
During his work at universities in Leipzig, Chicago, Marburg and Santa Barbara, he acquired an international reputation as an expert in Gnosticism and Mandaeism. He also occupied himself with Islam and methodological questions in religious studies.
His priority was the creation of a religious studies discipline that was independent of theology. Rudolph stressed that religious studies must be a rational science and be subjected to methodological atheism. This theory, which was initially fiercely contested in German religious studies, is now largely a matter of consensus.
- Die Mandäer I - Das Mandäerproblem Vandenhoek 1960
- Die Mandäer II - Der Kult Vandenhoek 1961
- Theogonie, Kosmogonie und Anthropogonie in den mandäischen Schriften Vandenhoeck 1965, ISBN 3-525-53182-6
- Die Gnosis - Wesen und Geschichte einer spätantiken Religion Leipzig 1977, (4th edition. Vandenhoeck 2005), ISBN 978-3-525-52110-6
- Gnosis und Spätantike Religionsgeschichte, (collected essays, Brill 1997) ISBN 90-04-10625-1
- Kurt Rudolph in the German National Library catalogue
- Institute of Religious Studies, University of Leipzig (in German)
- Bullet point biography (in German)