Jargon and the Categorization of Thought

2009 Sep 16

Here are some statistics on religion in China.

– about 8% of the Chinese population “claims belief in religion” (1997 survey)
– about 3-4% is Christian (CIA factbook)
– about 1-2% is Muslim (CIA factbook)
– about 20% is Buddhist (BBC/Chinese Gov)

What’s the jargon at work here, which makes these numbers really weird? If you guess it’s “religion,” you’re right! The modern Chinese word for religion was imported from Japanese at the turn of the century (and it was a relatively recent word in Japanese, as far as I know). Hardly anyone believes in religion in China (except for the Christians), but almost everyone goes to temples and participates in festivals on occasion (even the atheists).

For another example, see “peasant.” Is China still feudal? Why are its farmers called “peasants”?

Think about that the next time you pull out “story games” or “Narrativism” or “bird-in-ear.” What are you doing? You’re training your brain to think a certain way. Make sure that’s what you want to do.

/note to myself

2 Responses to “Jargon and the Categorization of Thought”

  1. Rafu Says:

    Well, yeah, based on my limited academic understanding of Buddhism, calling Buddhism “a religion” is quite the eurocentric view.

  2. Yasha Says:

    I think the jargon at work is the word “belief,” not necessarily “religion.” There are a number of people in the US — from Buddhists to Pagans to Unitarians to Episcopalians — who find the practice of their religion to be compelling and rewarding, but who find no need or benefit from belief in any specific dogma.

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