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 Schools Outreach Officer

Founding co-director of Edinburgh Buddhist Studies

Convenor, Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

Chair, Khyentse Foundation Prize Committee for the European Award for Outstanding Dissertation in Buddhist Studies

Editorial Board member: Buddhist Studies Review (journal), Asian Literature and Translation (journal), Lexington Books monograph series Feminist Studies and Sacred Texts.

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.

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 overseeing the creation of a database of jātaka stories (stories of the Buddha's past lives) in Indian literature and art. This project, funded by a Philip Leverhulme Prize 2017, involves a research assistant (Dr Chris Clark) and support from the Digital Innovations team in CAHSS. Alongside this resource-creation, I am beginning to think seriously about the next book project, which will address some of the different ways in which jātaka stories were used and interpreted in different schools of early Indian Buddhism.

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 will be published as by Equinox in 2020 as Many Buddhas, One Buddha: A Study and Translation of Avadānaśataka 1-40.

Knowledge exchange

Along with Dr Alison Jack, I created resources for school teachers of RME based on some of the narrative materials with which I work. I am 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 co-founded the School of Divinity's Story and Religion Network, which brings together colleagues with a similar interest. I have also worked with professional storytellers in bringing Buddhist narrative to life. Building on this work, I was appointed as the School of Divinity Schools Outreach Officer in 2018, and am working to increase our work with teachers and school pupils in the region.

Affiliated research centres