As I sit at home watching the snow build up outside the window (the university is closed for a second day running due to the weather) I am musing about my new research project, an exploration of the uses of jātaka stories in early Indian texts and art.
In many ways it is not a new project at all. My doctoral work, into the Pāli jātaka tradition, set me on a long and ongoing quest to explore how the jātaka genre is understood in a range of Buddhist contexts. Since my work on the Pāli tradition I have also worked on the jātakas of the Avadānaśataka, and spent some time looking at those in the Mahāvastu. I have also always had an interest in how (and why) jātakas are present as visual depictions at Buddhist stūpa and temple sites, though I never have a helpful answer when someone sends me a photo and asks “what’s this?”!
However, thanks to a recent award of a Philip Leverhulme Prize, I will soon be able to approach my jātaka research more systematically, and with the help of a research resource that I hope will also be of use to others. The prize is allowing me to employ a Research Assistant (for twelve months full-time for the 2018/19 academic year) as well as get the technical support necessary to create an online searchable database of jātakas in Indian Buddhist texts and art.
The creation of such a resource has been a longstanding ambition, and the idea developed through long conversations with my friend and fellow jātaka-enthusiast Arthid Sheravanichkul of Chulalongkorn University. I look forward to finally getting it off the ground, with the help of a Research Assistant, and with the guidance of a number of scholars – including Arthid – who have agreed to form an advisory team for the project.
Once complete, the database should allow a variety of search functions, making it easy, for example, to look up all stories about jackals, or all stories that feature the Buddha’s mother, or all stories addressing the theme of deceit. It should also provide a bank of images of stories in art, helping with future identifications and scholarship. These features will certainly help me in my research, and I hope they will also be of use to other scholars, of art or text, as well as to Buddhists and other story enthusiasts.
If you know of anyone who might be interested in the Research Assistant post please do encourage them to apply. They must have a PhD (or be due to have one by the start of September) in Buddhist Studies or another relevant field (eg early Indian religion). Further details are available in the job advert here: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BHY516/research-assistant/.
Once semester is over and time opens up once more I hope to post further details of the plans for this resource and the wider research project that I envisage building around it.