In 2017, Dr Naomi Appleton was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize in recognition of her research. She is using the prize money to fund the creation of an online searchable database of jātaka stories (stories of the Buddha’s past lives) in Indian texts and art which can be viewed on Jataka Stories.
Jātaka literature is difficult to navigate because of its scale and complexity. The largest textual collection (the Pāli Jātakatthavaṇṇanā) contains around 550 stories, while the many other jataka texts both increase the total number of stories and repeat stories in multiple versions; versions of some stories are also found in non-Buddhist texts. Artistic depictions at Buddhist sites from the first century BCE to the present day add to the challenges of interpreting the genre, while textual scholars and art historians operate in largely separate fields without many opportunities to share their expertise.
For these reasons, research into these fascinating narratives will be greatly enhanced by the new database. Dr Chris Clark was appointed as research assistant to oversee the original development work (2018-2019), and the database version 1.0 was launched in December 2019, with version 2.0 currently under development. As part of the project, Dr Appleton also hosted an International symposium on imagery in Indian Buddhist narrative texts and art in September 2019, resulting in a volume called Narrative Visions and Visual Narrative in Indian Buddhism, published by Equinox in 2022.