Ian Astley

Senior Lecturer in Japanese (retired)


After a degree in Religious Studies at Stirling Ian Astley studied Japanese at Sheffield and SOAS (London) before embarking on PhD work at the University of Leeds. From 1981 he studied in Japan for something over three years, firstly in Sapporo at the University of Hokkaido then at Koyasan University in Wakayama Prefecture.

After a further year at Leeds he moved to Denmark and was attached in various capacities to Aarhus University's Institute for the History of Religions (later renamed the Institute for the Study of Religions) for six years, ending as a Senior Research Fellow. In 1991 he assumed responsibility for Religious Studies at the University of Marburg, Germany, in the former Faculty of Non-European Languages and Cultures (Fachbereich Außereuropäische Sprachen und Kulturen) and that university's centre for Japanese Studies (Japan-Zentrum).

From 1994 onwards he was Associate Research Fellow there, returning to Denmark in the spring of 1997 as a Visiting Lecturer in Japanese at Aarhus' East Asian Institute. He took up his current position in Edinburgh in September 1997, serving as head of Asian Studies from 2000-2. He was a Japan Foundation Fellow in 2005–6 at the University of Tokyo (Tōbunken), working on Kūkai's religio-political role in early ninth-century Japan, which remains his primary research focus. He also curated the exhibition, Living Buddhism - Retrospect and Prospect (2011), at the University of Edinburgh, which is one aspect of his teaching and research on Buddhism in the modern world. He is a founding editor of The electronic Journal of East and Central Asian Religions (eJECAR), an on-line journal hosted by the University of Edinburgh, the first issue of which was published in September 2013.

Dr Astley retired at the end of August 2022 but continues to be associated with the department as a Fellow.


  • BA (Hons) in Religious Studies (University of Stirling, UK)
  • PhD (University of Leeds, UK)

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I am no longer able to take on further postgraduate supervision.

Current PhD students supervised

Nathalie Phillips: The Heian period episteme (thesis submitted)

Frank Fan: Yōkai and their religio-political underpinnings

Chris Hayes: Contemporary Japanese art

Research summary

Japanese and Chinese religions and philosophy, especially Shingon Buddhist tradition in China and Japan, focussing on the development of the school's thought in the transition from a Chinese to a Japanese religio-political environment, with particular reference to the role of material culture and prosody in the development of ideology in the body politic.

The early commentarial tradition of the Liqu jing (J.: Rishukyō).

Developments in the Meiji Restoration, with particular reference to Shingon Buddhism and the manner in which the Japanese were introducing their form of Buddhism to the West, more specifically the UK.