Comparative Buddhology in Indian narrative literature

Dr Naomi Appleton has been awarded a grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for a collaborative three-year project, looking at the development of the figure of the Buddha in Asian religious literature from the early Common Era.

The project is called Comparative Buddhology in Indian Narrative Literature.

Dr Appleton is Senior Lecturer in Asian Religions in the School of Divinity and Co-Director of Edinburgh Buddhist Studies, network. She will work with Dr Chris V Jones (Cambridge) on the research, focusing on the period after the emergence of the Mahayana, one of the main traditions of Buddhism.

Outputs will include an international conference and new teaching resources on Buddhism for schools.

Summary of the project

In their summary of their project, Dr Appleton and Dr Jones say:

“Centuries after the emergence of Buddhism in roughly the middle of the first millennium BCE, Buddhist authors and their audiences continued to reflect on the nature of their founder: the Buddha Shakyamuni.

“Buddhist tradition did not understand Shakyamuni to have been the only Buddha, but rather the most recent in a continuing sequence of superlatively knowledgeable and powerful beings, responsible for teaching about the human condition and liberation from it.

“A premise of this research project is that 'Buddhological' reflection on the nature of Shakyamuni, and his status relative to other liberated beings and teachers, developed over time and was a topic of debate, divergence, and significant innovation.

“Evidence suggests that the emergence of Mahayana Buddhism - a second wave of Buddhist innovation that began around the turn of the Common Era - complicated the already diverse opinion about the Buddha.

“In the same period, non-Buddhist authors expounded theistic systems and stories that posed fresh competition to the perceived status of the Buddha as the apex of religious authority.

“Our project will attend to the figure of the Buddha in Buddhist literature after the emergence of the Mahayana. We will look at Indian Buddhist texts that survive in a number of languages - primarily Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan and Chinese.”

Teaching materials

Dr Appleton and Dr Jones continue:

“A further aim is to produce translations, digests and commentaries of Buddhist materials. These are intended to provide valuable resources for the teaching of Buddhism and Religious studies in secondary school certified courses (GCSE and A-level in England and Wales; National 5 and Higher levels in Scotland).

“These materials and other outputs besides will be trialed by partner school teachers and at continuing professional development (CPD) events at various locations around the UK, and will together with these workshops contribute to the challenging task of teaching Buddhism in schools.”


I’m delighted that the Arts and Humanities Research Council have agreed to fund our research, and look forward to getting started on the project.

Dr Naomi Appleton




Dr Appleton’s profile 

Dr Chris V Jones’s profile 

Edinburgh Buddhist Studies 


Image: BuddhistTriad on wikipedia CC BY-SA