Edywn Robert Bevan, historian of comparative religion, was born in London on 15 February 1870 as the seventh son of banker Robert Cooper Lee Bevan. After his early education at Monkton Combe School in Bath, Bevan won an open classical scholarship to New College, Oxford (1888), where he obtained first classes in classical moderations (1890) and literae humaniores (1892). After taking his degree Bevan spent a year in travel. His visit to India laid the foundation for a permanent interest in Indian problems, which appeared later in his books, Indian Nationalism (1913) and Thoughts on Indian Discontents (1929). After India, he spent a year at the British School of Archaeology in Athens and at excavations in Egypt. On his return, in 1896 he married Mary (d. 1935), the daughter of Baron Radstock, and they had two daughters.
In World War I Bevan worked in the department of propaganda and information and in the political intelligence department of foreign office. His service gave him an OBE in 1920 and his war writings included The Land of the Two Rivers (1917), The Method in the Madness (1917), and Is Germany a Hopeless Case? (1940).
With his inherited wealth, Bevan pursed research as an independent scholar and published his books, The House of Seleucus (1902), Jerusalem under the High Priests (1904), Stoics and Sceptics (1913), and Hellenism and Christianity (1921). But in 1921 the postwar economic collapse made him look for paying work. King’s College, London, offered him a post as lecturer in Hellenistic history and literature from 1922 to 1933, at which point worsening deafness forced him to retire. During this period, he published A History of Egypt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty (1927), Later Greek Religion (1927), Sibyls and Seers: A Survey of Some Ancient Theories of Revelation and Inspiration (1928), and Christianity (1932). His concern gradually moved from history and literature to religion and philosophy. He delivered Gifford lectures in 1933 and 1934, which were later published as Symbolism and Belief (1938) and Holy Images (1940).
In terms of his religious position, Bevan was a convinced Christian, but his early flexible view on the inerrancy of scripture gave him freedom in his historical investigation. As a member of the London Society for the Study of Religion, he made friends with Jewish scholars. As an active member of the Society of Jews and Christians for promoting mutual understanding, he was also involved in the Student Volunteer Movement, on which he published his Christians in a World at War (1940).
Bevan obtained various university honors, an honorary LLD of St Andrews (1922) and an honorary DLitt of Oxford in 1923. In addition to being a fellow of the British Academy (1942), he was honorary fellow of New College, Oxford. After retiring, he continued research and publication until he died in London on 18 October 1943.