Ian Buruma was educated in Holland and Japan, where he studied history, Chinese literature, and Japanese cinema. In the 1970s in Tokyo, he acted in Kara Juro's Jokyo Gekijo and participated in Maro Akaji's butoh dancing company, Dairakudakan, followed by a career in documentary filmmaking and photography. In the 1980s, he worked as a journalist and spent much of his early writing career travelling and reporting from all over Asia.
Buruma now writes about a broad range of political and cultural subjects for major publications, most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Corriere della Sera, and NRC Handelsblad. He was Cultural Editor of The Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong (1983-86) and Foreign Editor of The Spectator, London (1990-91), and has been a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington D.C., St. Antony's College, Oxford, and Remarque Institute, NYU.
He has delivered lectures at various academic and cultural institutions world-wide, including Oxford, Princeton, and Harvard universities. He is currently Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.
Ian Buruma was awarded the 2008 international Erasmus Prize for making "an especially important contribution to culture, society or social science in Europe." He was voted as one of the Top 100 Public Intellectuals by the Foreign Policy/Prospect magazines in 2008 and 2010. Buruma was awarded the 2008 Shorenstein Journalism Award, an annual award which "honors a journalist not only for a distinguished body of work, but also for the particular way that work has helped American readers to understand the complexities of Asia." His book, Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (Penguin USA) was the winner of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the Best Current Interest Book. In April 2012 he was awarded the Abraham Kuyper Prize at the Princeton Theological Seminary.
Some of his recent books include Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents (Princeton University Press, 2010), based on the Stafford Little lectures given at Princeton in 2008, and Grenzen aan de vrijheid: van De Sade tot Wilders (Lemniscaat, 2010), written in Dutch as the 2010 essay for the Maand van de Filosofie and later published as (Arcadia, Barcelona, 2011).
Buruma writes monthly columns for Project Syndicate. From September 2011 to May 2012, he was a fellow of the Cullman Center of the New York Public Library.