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I was curious to see that the word for "superstition", 迷信{めいしん} contains a character meaning lost, perplexed, or astray. Given that Japan and China both have a history of religious belief, I found the character choice odd.

I couldn't find the etymology on Wiktionary, does anyone know where it comes from?

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    Can't people both be religious and superstitious from their own perspective? – Leebo Oct 29 '19 at 22:26
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I was curious to see that the word for "superstition", 迷信{めいしん} contains a character meaning lost, perplexed, or astray. Given that Japan and China both have a history of religious belief, I found the character choice odd.

Superstition, be it as the English term "superstition" or as the Chinese term [迷信]{míxìn} or the borrowed Japanese term [迷信]{meishin} generally refers to a belief that isn't grounded so much in any cohesive, structured religion or spirituality, but instead is viewed negatively as ad hoc and often incorrect. Thus, the Chinese term arose as literally [迷]{mí} ("crazy, lost, confused") + [信]{xìn} ("belief").

Note that this is distinct from religious belief or faith, which are referred to variously as [信念]{shinnen}, [信仰]{shinkō}, or [信教]{shinkyō} (among other possibilities). These other terms do not include the 迷 kanji.

I couldn't find the etymology on Wiktionary, does anyone know where it comes from?

Looking more specifically at your question of "where does it come from", I note that the Kokugo Dai Jiten entry lists an earliest Japanese citation as 1889.

There are some two-character on'yomi terms in Japanese that were coined or reworked in Japanese and a re-borrowed into Chinese, as happened with the terms 社会 and 自由 (where both have modern meanings that are originally Japanese reworkings of older senses). However, most originate from Chinese.

While I cannot currently find any explicit Chinese source that lists a date of appearance for this term, I do see in the Wiktionary entry that it has Chinese-derived descendants in Korean and Vietnamese. The Japanese coinages or reworkings, where known, are listed as the parents of any Korean, Vietnamese, or Chinese (re-)borrowings, so it appears that 迷信 as a word arose in Chinese.

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迷信 is early on (or first) attested in a Tang Dynasty Chinese translation of the Buddhist text Mahayana-sutra-alamkara-karika (大乘莊嚴經論).

《大乘莊嚴經論・卷四》

釋曰。信相差別有十三種。 一者已生信。謂過去現在信。二者未生信。謂未來信。三者正受信。謂內信。四者似受信。謂外信。五者他力信。謂粗信。由善友力生故。六者自力信。謂細信。由自力生故。七者有迷信。謂惡信。由顛倒故。 八者不迷信。謂好信。由無倒故。九者現前信。謂近信。由無障故。十者不現前信。謂遠信。由有障故。十一者聽法信。謂聞信。由聞生故。十二者求義信。謂思信。由思生故。十三者觀察信。謂修信。由修生故。

...There are thirteen kinds of belief...The seventh is 迷信 , which is a kind of malignant belief. Reason is turned upside-down....

Given that there are other types of 信 in the same text, there is no sign that 迷信 is a description of religious belief in general at its first coinage.

The etymology should be a calque from Sanskrit, but I cannot read Sanskrit. If anyone would like a go at finding the original Sanskrit word, see this for a multilingual comparison of the text.

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    Good stuff, thank you for finding that! – Eiríkr Útlendi Oct 30 '19 at 4:00

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