Dr Naomi Appleton (SFHEA)

Senior Lecturer in Asian Religions


Naomi Appleton has been working at the University of Edinburgh since 2012 when she arrived as a Chancellor's Fellow. Before that she held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Cardiff University. She works on the areas of early Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism) and Buddhist Studies more broadly.


Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2019; Fellow 2011-2019)

DPhil (University of Oxford, 2008)

MPhil (Cardiff University, 2004)

BA (Hons) (Cardiff University, 2003)

Responsibilities & affiliations

School of Divinity Director of Undergraduate Studies (2020-present)

Founding co-director of Edinburgh Buddhist Studies (2019-present).

External Advisory Member of the Centre of Jaina Studies, SOAS, University of London (2021-present)

Convenor of the Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions (2014-2020).

Chair, awards committee for the Khyentse Foundation European Buddhist Studies Dissertation Prize (2014-2018). Member, awards committee for the Khyentse Foundation Prize for Outstanding Translation (2012-2020).

Treasurer and Membership Secretary for the UK Association for Buddhist Studies (2008-2014); postgraduate representative (2005-8).

Equality and Diversity Director for the School of Divinity (2014-18), achieving a Silver Athena SWAN award for gender-equality, and overseeing related initiatives.

University of Edinburgh Asian Religions Network co-founder and coordinator: convening public lectures plus work-in-progress workshops and social events to bring together staff across the University with an interest in Asian religions.

School of Divinity Story and Religion Network co-founder, and co-director of Approaching Religion Through Story project, which has produced resources for the teaching of religion in schools and hosted CPD events for schoolteachers.

Editorial board member: Asian Literature and Translation and Buddhist Studies Review (peer-reviewed journals); Lexington Books series Feminist Studies and Sacred Texts.

Associate member of the Centre for the History of Religion in Asia, Cardiff University and the Centre of Jaina Studies and Centre for Buddhist Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

Member of the U.K. Association for Buddhist Studies, International Association of Buddhist Studies, British Association for the Study of Religions, and Pali Text Society.

Undergraduate teaching

REST08020 Religions of Ancient India: Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism

REST10048 Theravada Buddhism

REST10051 The Hindu Epics: Mahabharata and Ramayana  

REST10057 Lives of the Buddha: Jataka Stories and Early Buddhism

Postgraduate teaching

REST11012 Theory and Method in the Study of Religion

REST11021 Theravada Buddhism from Benares to Bangkok

REST11022 Understanding the Hindu Epics: Mahabharata and Ramayana

REST11026 Lives of the Buddha in Indian Art and Literature

I have been a Fellow of the Higer Education Academy since 2011 and Senior Fellow since 2019.

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I welcome enquiries from students interested in researching aspects of early Indian religion or Buddhist Studies more broadly.

Research summary

My primary research interest is the role of narrative in the construction, communication and negotiation of ideas in Indian religions, including Buddhism, Jainism and early Hindu traditions. My work to date has addressed two inter-related areas: the role of the jātaka genre (stories of the Buddha’s past lives) in a variety of textual and cultural contexts; and the ways in which common narrative tropes, characters and techniques are used by competing religious groups (Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanical) in early India. This has included translation work (from Sanskrit and Pāli) as well as text-historical studies, and studies of visual and manuscript culture.

Current research interests

I am currently collaborating with Dr Chris V. Jones (Cambridge University) on an AHRC-funded project exploring notions of buddhahood in narrative literature (mainstream and Mahāyāna) from the first half of the first millennium. I am also continuing my work overseeing the expansion of a database of jātaka stories (stories of the Buddha's past lives) in Indian literature and art that was launched in 2019 thanks to a Philip Leverhulme Prize. You can see more about my research on my blog.

Past research interests

I have a long-standing interest in the jātaka genre, an important genre of stories relating the past lives of the Buddha. My doctoral work, which was published as Jātaka Stories in Theravāda Buddhism (Ashgate 2010), explored the role of this type of narrative in the development of Buddhist ideas about the nature of the Buddha and his multi-life path to buddhahood. Jātaka stories remain a key part of my research agenda, and I have published translations of selected stories from Pāli and Sanskrit narrative collections. As my British Academy post-doctoral research project I explored the role of multi-life stories in Buddhist and Jain traditions, asking how and why the two sister religions used stories of karma and rebirth. My main findings were published as Narrating Karma and Rebirth (CUP 2014). Moving on from this comparative project, I completed an AHRC-funded research project, jointly with James Hegarty of Cardiff University, on shared elements in the narrative traditions of early Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, resulting in my third monograph Shared Characters in Jain, Buddhist and Hindu Narrative (Routledge 2017). Since then, I have continued working on jātaka and related narrative literature in the Sanskrit Avadānaśataka, a collection of 100 stories of multi-life karmic consequences, and recently completed a book exploring attitudes towards the uniqueness (or otherwise) of the Buddha in the first four chapters of the text. This was published as by Equinox in 2020 as Many Buddhas, One Buddha: A Study and Translation of Avadānaśataka 1-40. More recently I have returned to jatakas for the creation of a database and related volume.

Knowledge exchange

I have a longstanding interest in supporting the teaching of Buddhism in schools, and oversee a blog of resources as well as running CPD events for teachers. I am particularly passionate about the role of story in learning, and the ways in which stories can encourage exploration and questioning, rather than simply communicating a set teaching. I have also worked with professional storytellers in bringing Buddhist narrative to life. 

Affiliated research centres