This article focuses on the debate about mind-body concepts in early China to demonstrate the usefulness of large-scale, automated textual analysis techniques for scholars of religion. As previous scholarship has argued, traditional, “close” textual reading, as well as more recent, human coder-based analyses, of early Chinese texts have called into question the “strong” holist position, or the claim that the early Chinese made no qualitative distinction between mind and body. In a series of follow-up studies, we show how three different machine-based techniques—word collocation, hierarchical clustering, and topic modeling analysis—provide convergent evidence that the authors of early Chinese texts viewed the mind-body relationship as unique or problematic. We conclude with reflections on the advantages of adding “distant reading” techniques to the methodological arsenal of scholars of religion, as a supplement and aid to traditional, close reading.
Recommended citation: Edward Slingerland, Ryan Nichols, Kristoffer Neilbo, Carson Logan; The Distant Reading of Religious Texts: A “Big Data” Approach to Mind-Body Concepts in Early China, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 85, Issue 4, 30 December 2017, Pages 985–1016.