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In the Bengali language there are two types of superstitions: The good one is called Sanskar and the other one is called Kusanskar.

Ideally, Kusanskar is what we would call superstition in English, i.e., "excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural." They come to society automatically out of fear and irrational thinking, in the public mind. They can also be made by some so-called heads of society to gain respect for themselves from the fear in public. For example:

In early days, Christian priests sold tickets to heaven to the public. The public, out of fear driven by blind faith, bought them and did not question their legitimacy.

The priests created this phobia intentionally, and it had no value in the public interest. This manner of public thought is called Kusanskar in Bengali and superstition in English.

But some misconceptions were made intentionally to do good for humanity. They are called Sanskar in Bengali. They are blind faith by society, but at the end of the day they do good for the public. For example, it is a blind faith/custom here in India that:

A married Hindu girl should wear Sindur.

It may seem to be blind faith, but it had a good intention: to let other people understand whether an Indian girl was married or not. So it should not be taken as bad, rather it has a good intention.

So, what should we call these blind beliefs? Personally, I don't think superstition fits here well. Somehow, it makes any belief stigmatized.

Notes

  • I am not asking about the cultural situation or examples, but about the words themselves
  • Google Translate did not give an alternative
  • 3
    An ELU question? – Parth Kohli Feb 8 '13 at 16:51
  • @Novice, What? Why? – Mistu4u Feb 8 '13 at 16:52
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    I guess this is not so basic as is expected. – Parth Kohli Feb 8 '13 at 16:55
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    Novice means this should be asked on (or migrated to) English Language and Usage, a site for questions too advanced for ELU. I agree; I don't think such a distinction exists in English but if I'm wrong, these people should be able to help. – SF. Feb 8 '13 at 17:11
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    There is Jinx which is a superstition with supposedly negative consequences, but that's different from what you're asking - avoiding "jinxing it" has no positive or negative bearing on the society, just an alleged influence on your luck. – SF. Feb 8 '13 at 17:13
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In the very broad sense, I would regard the first kind ("Kusanskar") as superstition, and the second kind ("Sanskar") as custom or tradition.

You may want to consider other terms related to superstition, too, such as black magic or sorcery. Also, another word I conjured while reading about the corrupt spiritual lottery you described is simony, which is:

the buying or selling of sacred or spiritual things, as sacraments or benefices

If you want to stress that these beliefs are untrue, despite how some might believe in them, you could also use the word delusion, which means:

a false belief or opinion that is resistant to confrontation with actual facts

  • 3
    +1 But I think the practice OP describes is indulgences rather than simony. – StoneyB Feb 8 '13 at 17:29
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    custom and tradition cover quite a bit more than 'positively directed superstitions' – Mitch Feb 8 '13 at 18:52
  • I believe "custom" and "tradition" both fit well for my question. – Mistu4u Aug 15 '13 at 14:41
  • -1 kusanskar is not superstition at all..as I am indian and the word is sanskrit. and it means bad manners. and sanskar means the manners you learn from your parents or family... correct your answer. – Java D Sep 30 '13 at 11:51
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To begin with, superstition is not a technical term; it is a derogatory characterization employed by one group of people to mock the beliefs and practices of another group of people as irrational or ignorant. For many centuries it was used mainly to express disapproval of another sect’s or people’s religious practices; but today, when a large proportion of people regard all religious practices as superstition, you find it applied more widely. Here, for instance, is a book chapter entitled “Grammar Superstitions: The Never-Never Rules”.

So superstition doesn't necessarily have anything to do with social value or utility; probably the closest you can come to a true antonym of superstition is rationality.

Religious people who defend what other people call their superstitions have a variety of arguments, and a corresponding variety of terms: inspired or orthodox or received wisdom or spiritually profound, and so forth. But practices like the Sindur you describe are not usually, in the West, grounded in religious belief or ritual requirement. They are traditions or conventions or social rituals or folkways or customs; and these terms are employed by both those who attack these practices and those who defend them.

There is a large body of literature on the social functionality and dysfunctionality of such practices; but the terms employed there will not, by and large, be part of Standard English. They are, rather, the technical language of sociology, anthropology, rhetoric and semiotics.

  • 1 point. Didn't know superstition is a derogatory word. – Epitorial Feb 8 '13 at 17:36
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    @Epitorial: But OP himself cited a dictionary definition of superstition saying it's "excessively credulous belief". I don't see how you could interpret that as anything other than derogatory. – FumbleFingers Feb 8 '13 at 17:40
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I don't think you can translate this word into English in any way that would fail to mislead. The corresponding English words - belief, superstition, creed, ritual, tradition, old-wives tale, folkloric practice, etc. all carry a very heavy freight of the history of both religion and rationalism within the society of the English speaking peoples. In no case would it convey what you describe - pair of words deeply embedded in Bengali tradition. I think this is a case where you should simply import the word into English and explain the meaning to the reader.

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