Born in Moscow, Korotayev attended Moscow State University, where he received a B.A. in 1984 and an M.A. in 1989. He earned a Ph.D. degree in 1993 from the Manchester University, and a Doctor of Sciences degree from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1998. Since 2000, he has been Professor and Director of the Anthropology of the East Center in the Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow and Senior Research Fellow of the Oriental Institute and Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is a co-editor of the Social Evolution & History Journal.
Andrey Korotayev's major contributions belong to three fields:
A special contribution has been made by Korotayev in this field by the detection of the main trends of the evolution of the Yemeni cultures through the application of quantitative methods to the analysis of the mass epigraphic sources in the Sabaic language. In this field Korotayev has discovered the phenomenon of transition from chiefdoms to tribes in the early medieval Yemen (see his Ancient Yemen [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994] and Pre-Islamic Yemen [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1995]).
Korotayev has also done (together with his colleagues Vladimir Klimenko and Dmitry Proussakov) a significant contribution to the study of the origins of Islam. Korotayev and his colleagues suggest to view the origins of Islam against the background of the 6th century AD Arabian socioecological crisis whose model is specified by Korotayev and his colleagues through the study of climatological, seismological, volcanological and epidemiological history of the period. They find that most sociopolitical systems of the Arabs reacted to the socioecological crisis by getting rid of the rigid supratribal political structures (kingdoms and chiefdoms) which started posing a real threat to their very survival. The decades of fighting which led to the destruction of the most of the Arabian kingdoms and chiefdoms (reflected in Ayyam al-`Arab tradition) led to the elaboration of some definite "antiroyal" freedom-loving tribal ethos. At the beginning of the 7th century a tribe which would recognize themselves as subjects of some terrestrial supratribal political authority, a "king", risked to lose its honour. However, this seems not to be applicable to the authority of another type, the "celestial" one. At the meantime the early 7th century evidences the merging of the Arabian tradition of prophecy and the Arabian Monotheist "Rahmanist" tradition which produced "the Arabian prophetic movement". The Monotheist "Rahmanist" prophets appear to have represented a supratribal authority just of the type many Arab tribes were looking for at this very time, which seems to explain to a certain extent those prophets' political success (including the extreme political success of Muhammad) (Origins of Islam: Political-Anthropological and Environmental Context. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. 53/3–4 (1999): 243–276) (with Vladimir Klimenko and Dmitry Proussakov).
From a complexity perspective Korotayev's 2004 book on world religions establishes a key point, that of the bifurcations of social and kinship organization that coalesced historically around the differential practices of the major world religions. It draws on the World Cultural database and the world religion as well as other variables. This is a book of startling simplicity and depth that suggests an empirical solution to viewing the subjectivist/objectivist dilemmas in the social sciences and history. It will have a profound effect on how comparison is done in the future in anthropology, and suggests an answer to why some anthropologists, starting with Geertz, are reluctant to suggest comparison as an adequate method. The Murdockian comparative approach, up to Korotayev, had developed to the point where the nonindependence of cultures was well-recognized, and ways of taking the larger configurations of cultural systems into account had been reckoned to lie, in the latest iteration, along lines of high-order proto-linguistic communities. Korotayev demonstrates the effects of breaking what might be seen as a ritual taboo of Murdockian comparison: Thou Shalt Not Code World Religion. By doing so, Korotayev releases the Murdockian spell that lingers over the comparative approach in anthropology, and goes on to demonstrate the powerful effects of world religious communities — dating from what Jaspers calls the "Axial Age" (800–200 BCE) — on the preservation and differentiation of distinctive social and political structures in Eurasia. His introduction and conclusion suggest that an objectivist natural history approach to human history, in which subjective factors are of local importance but fade out in terms of lasting effects over generations, is a valid approach to the "pre-Axial" condition of human societies, while a subjectivist history of consciousness is a necessary complement to the "post-Axial" condition. Korotayev succeeds in placing these two complementary approaches in context and showing their linkages in terms of how subjective and religious factors play out in human history alongside objective factors such as demography and ecology, each informing the other. He shows how it is impossible to arrive at valid inferential results from comparative approaches without an integration of the two, a situation he aptly calls "Galton's opportunity" for those are of century-old critiques of the comparative method. He reader will be surprised at the depth of empirical comparative findings in this short book. Following Murray Leaf's Man, Mind and Science (1974) this work is a major contribution to repair of the material/ideational rift in anthropology.
In this field he has proposed one of the most convincing mathematical explanations for von Foerster's Doomsday Equation. In collaboration with his colleagues, Artemy Malkov and Daria Khaltourina, he has shown that till the 1970s the hyperbolic growth of the world population was accompanied by quadratic-hyperbolic growth of the world GDP, and developed a number of mathematical models describing both this phenomenon, and the World System withdrawal from the blow-up regime observed in the recent decades. The hyperbolic growth of the world population and quadratic-hyperbolic growth of the world GDP observed till the 1970s have been correlated by him and his colleagues to a non-linear second order positive feedback between the demographic growth and technological development that can be spelled out as follows: technological growth - increase in the carrying capacity of land for people - demographic growth - more people - more potential inventors - acceleration of technological growth - accelerating growth of the carrying capacity - the faster population growth - accelerating growth of the number of potential inventors - faster technological growth - hence, the faster growth of the Earth's carrying capacity for people, and so on. In collaboration with Alexander Markov he has shown that a similar mathematical model can be developed to describe the macrotrends of biological evolution He has also developed a number of mathematical models of interaction between the very long-term, "millennial" hyperbolic trend dynamics of social systems and the shorter-term, "secular" (that is, observed at the scale of centuries), cyclical dynamics. He is a laureate of the Russian Science Support Foundation in "The Best Economists of the Russian Academy of Sciences" nomination (2006).
Korotayev has written over 10 books and 100 articles dealing with his research interests. These include Ancient Yemen (Oxford University Press, 1995), World Religions and Social Evolution of the Old World Oikumene Civilizations: A Cross-cultural Perspective (Edwin Mellen Press, 2004), and Introduction to Social Macrodynamics (KomKniga, 2006, with Artemy Malkov and Daria Khaltourina). Among his more important journal articles are "Origins of Islam" in 1999 Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae (with Vladimir Klimenko and Dmitry Proussakov), "Regions Based on Social Structure: A Reconsideration" in the 2000 Current Anthropology (with Alexander Kazankov) and A Compact Macromodel of World System Evolution in the 2005 Journal of World Systems Research.