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A recent question from Tsundoku about the Bhagavad Geeta led me to think about how we tag works whose component parts themselves can be regarded as independent works. The Bhagavad Geeta is a small part of a much longer work, the Mahabharata. It is easily the best known part of that epic, as in practical terms it serves as the authoritative scripture for contemporary Hinduism; for example, Hindu witnesses in court are sworn in on the Geeta. So it perhaps deserves its own tag rather than simply being subsumed under a tag.

Similar considerations arise with many other works. The obvious example is the Bible. Would a question about the Book of Job necessitate a tag? Would we need tags for, say, or ? And would those be synonyms? If so, which tag would be canonical? If not, how do we decide between the two for any particular question—based on the asker's perspective? Apply both if it's a neutral perspective that isn't specifically Jewish or Christian? Or perhaps just have tags for the specific books, including Apocrypha, plus a larger tag applicable to all questions about canonical or deuterocanonical Biblical books? Or just the larger tag and not tags for the specific component works?

It's not just religious works that have this issue, of course. J. M. Coetzee's Dusklands comprises two novellas, The Vietnam Project and The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee. These novellas have no characters, situations, or specific settings in common, but share themes. Each can be discussed separately or as part of a larger thematic whole. Should we have three separate tags for Dusklands and each of the two novellas? Or should we just have a single for all of them? If we have three separate tags, should a question that's only about, say, The Vietnam Project be tagged with as well? Because even if the question doesn't mention The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee, an answer might.

I can see arguments on both sides of this question and am hoping to spur a discussion here.

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    I'd suggest not using "old-testament". That term is meaningful only to those that believe there is a "new testament", and potentially insulting to those that don't. It would be better to use "hebrew-bible" or "bible-hebrew" or even "tanakh". – Ray Butterworth Dec 28 '20 at 1:41
  • @RayButterworth Could you be a bit more precise about who might feel insulted by "old-testament'? Does that refer to other faiths? (I am not aware that it would offend atheists, of which I know plenty.) – Tsundoku Dec 28 '20 at 1:43
  • @Tsundoku, in this case, Jews have a book they often refer to by the acronym Tanakh. To refer to it as an "old" something implies that it's been replaced or updated by a "new" something. From a Christian perspective, or even an atheist perspective, that makes sense, but for Jews it doesn't, and can appear as an insult. The linked article says "Many biblical studies scholars advocate use of the term Hebrew Bible (or Hebrew Scriptures) as a substitute for less-neutral terms with Jewish or Christian connotations (e.g. Tanakh or Old Testament).". – Ray Butterworth Dec 28 '20 at 1:50
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Assuming that we continue our current practice, we should do the following:

  • tag J. M. Coetzee's Duskland as without creating separate tags for "The Vietnam Project" and "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" (this assumes that Duskland is really a novel and not a "collection" of two novellas);
  • tag Gustave Flaubert's Three Tales or Trois Contes as instead of tagging "A Simple Heart", "Saint Julian the Hospitalier" and "Hérodias" separately; or not use the tag and use instead (i.e. treating it as a collection of three stories that can each be read on their own);
  • tag the Bhagavad Gita or Bhagavad Geeta with , possibly using and as (merged) synonyms (i.e. entering the last two tags into the tags box gives you );
  • tag canonical Bible books with , possibly adding for apocryphal works such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas.

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  • Which biblical canon? Some books considered canonical by some sects / denominations are not considered canonical by others. – verbose Apr 15 at 2:28
  • @verbose I wonder whether I should have left out the examples related to the Bible. Looks like something that should be discussed separately. – Tsundoku Apr 15 at 9:32
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Our current practice on tagging evolved gradually from several interrelated meta posts back in 2017, including:

The eventual conclusion, from the 3rd and last of those meta links above, was that we should use title tags as well as author tags. But another subconclusion, which came out of the 2nd of those meta links and partially overturned the result of the 1st, is that if a work is part of a series, we should usually use the series tag and not the individual-work tag. Of course it can get more complicated than this, as there are many different types of "series" (different books of the Bible are a very different point of discussion from different books of the Harry Potter series!), but the arguments were:

  • If a book is a part of series, where each work is closely related to previous, have only series tags. This way, we will only have [harry-potter], and not 7 individual tags. Note that [fantastic-beasts] will have its own tag due to being a prequel.

  • Have tags for each individual work, unless conflicting with previous bullet.

  • We may also have tags for universes, e.g. noon-universe by [strugatsky-brothers], or [discworld] (pardon my SF&F parlance).

If a book is part of a series, tag it with the name of the series and only optionally with the name of the individual book.

If you're asking about the Harry Potter series, for instance, a [harry-potter] tag makes much more sense than, say, a [hp-and-the-philosophers-stone] tag. For one thing, the latter would only be applicable to questions which focus on a specific book, which I expect most questions wouldn't. More importantly, nobody is going to be an expert on just a single book in the series; all 7+ books form a unified whole, and any real HP expert is going to know all of them well.

Of course, I'm wary of making an all-encompassing decision without considering all of the different types of literature questions it might affect. It seems like, back in those 2017 discussions, some of us (looks guiltily around) were largely thinking from the point of view of popular sci-fi or fantasy book series, without taking into account the truly vast breadth of literature as a topic.

However, in this case, I feel like the arguments made back then still make sense in the more general setting. Are there experts in the individual parts of Dusklands, who'd know how to answer a question about one part but not the other? Almost certainly not. Are there experts in the individual parts of the Bible or Mahabharata? Quite possibly yes, but someone with (for example) a PhD specialising in one specific book of the Bible would still surely know the whole Bible back to front and would likely be considered an "expert" (by this site's standards) in the Bible as a whole. So creating new tags for individual parts of a series or larger work would clutter up the tag system without creating much benefit.

TL;DR: I agree with Tsundoku's answer.

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