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PhD projects

Shingon (Esoteric) Buddhism in Japan and its Chinese antecedents.
Aspects of Japanese cosmology.
Living Buddhism.

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Personal profile


After a degree in Religious Studies at Stirling, Dr 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 (Tobunken) and is currently on sabbatical, finishing work on Kokai's religio-political role in early ninth-century Japan. He is also currently curating the exhibition, Living Buddhism - Retrospect and Prospect, at the University of Edinburgh, which is conceived as the starting point for a wide-ranging teaching and research database of photographic materials on Buddhism in the modern world.

Research Interests

The Shingon Buddhist tradition in Japan and its Chinese antecedents; Japanese and Chinese religions and philosophy, especially Buddhism.

Comprehensive monograph on the Shingon tradition in China and Japan, focussing on the development of the school's thought in the transition from a Chinese to a Japanese environment, with particular reference to the role of material culture in this process.

Monograph on the early commentarial tradition of the Liqu jing (Jap. Rishukyo).

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.

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Leeds

Award Date: 1 Jan 1988


  • BQ Buddhism
  • DS Asia


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