He received the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa in recognition of decades of campaigning for civil rights in the US.
The degree was conferred upon Mr Jackson at a ceremony following his appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The event was held in association with the university’s Global Justice Academy.
Professor Christine Bell, the university’s assistant principal global justice, said: “The Reverend Jesse Jackson has played a key role in promoting global justice.
“It is a great privilege to present Jesse Jackson with one of our highest honours, a doctorate of the University.”
In the 1960s Mr Jackson worked with Martin Luther King and in the 1980s twice sought the Democrat nomination to stand for president of the US.
Later he specialised in international diplomacy, negotiating with Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic among others.