The purpose of this paper is to show that scholars who choose not to use a well-established or acknowledged transliterated subject term, and instead decide for themselves to use synonyms, further complicate the process of doing comprehensive searches and greatly limit the ability to retrieve many pertinent works. In the research into world religions, there are transliterated words of a religious concept that can be used as subject terms. However, scholars in world religions have often not chosen the transliterated word, and instead have adopted words they believe are adequate synonyms of the transliterated word and use them to categorize their professional work. This paper shows how this practice severely lessens the ability to retrieve all pertinent work and causes problems for both world religion scholars wishing to perform comprehensive searches and librarian cataloger deciding on the proper subject terms to include in the construction of citations.
The Buddhist transliterated term into English “sunyata” and the scholarly created, synonymous English subject terms “emptiness”, “nothingness”, “voidness” and “openness” were searched in an international database of religious and theological works. The lists of retrieved Buddhist works were then compared to see if the results of each independent search were identical.
There is a very low rate of overlapping retrieval of Buddhist works when the term “sunyata” and each of the scholarly created synonyms are searched independently of each other. The use of scholar-created, synonymous subject terms instead of the transliterated term has greatly diminished comprehensive retrievals.
There is a paucity of articles concerning the negative effects of scholarly created, synonymous search terms in general, and in world religions in particular. These results present the dangers of this practice.
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