Born on 14 January 1953, Garth Fowden was educated at Merton College, Oxford; he graduated in 1974 and completed a doctorate there in 1979, under the title "Pagan philosophers in late antique society: with special reference to Iamblichus and his followers". Fowden was a research fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge, from 1978 to 1982 and then at Darwin College, Cambridge, until he took up a lectureship at the University of Groningen from 1983. In 1985 he moved to a research position at the National Research Foundation in Athens, and remained there until being appointed Sultan Qaboos Professor of Abrahamic Faiths at the University of Cambridge in 2013. He supervised only one PhD student during his career. His former PhD student, Valentina A. Grasso, is now professor at the Instute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York.
According to his British Academy profile, Fowden's research focuses on "intellectual currents and imperial horizons in the first millennium CE, from Augustus to Avicenna, Central Asia to the Atlantic" as well as "emergent Islam in its late antique context".