One of the themes in my book is Good vs Evil. I have chosen to portray the south African Idealogy of Ubuntu in a fictional culture in my book.

Actual text from my book: Ubuntu literally means 'Humanity towards others'.We are not many nations. We are one nation,and we are one people called the human race. All peoples have more similarities than differances, therefore no one has any right to treat another like a lesser being. Humanity is something that we owe to each other.

Another piece of information that I feel is relevant is that I added other things to my fictional culture.

I did this because my antagonists culture is evil and I felt that my book could use a protagonist culture that was Good for the contrast. And I felt that such an ideology deserves to become more known.

In the afterword I did say that it is a South African Idealogy and that I did not come up with it. Thus giving credit.

What possible consequences do I face from doing this?

  • 1
    It's hard to answer this as it is, and I'm a little on clear on what you're asking. You have two cultures in this story, one fictional and one not. Well and good. What are you worried about, exactly? Are you worried (say) how this will be received? If it will be seen as critical and derivative? Oct 2 '14 at 4:50
  • I have 2 cultures in this fictional fantasy story. 1 is good and has a non-fictional belief system of Ubuntu, as well as other cultural aspects that I made up. The other culture is evil. Yes I am worried about how it will be received.
    – user8727
    Oct 2 '14 at 4:55
  • The only non-fictional element in this story is Ubuntu.
    – user8727
    Oct 2 '14 at 5:16

The problem with taking a real-world believe system and implanting it in a fantasy world is that it greatly stretches the suspension of disbelieve when you use the same terms the real-world believe system is using.

The terms are usually the result of cultural circumstances during the founding of the believe system. When your believe system is indeed universally applicable, it might be plausible that a completely different culture which invented the believe system under completely different circumstances. But it is quite hard to imagine that they would come up with exactly the same words for everything.

A justification might be when you personally believe that your believe system is inspired by a divine being which stretches universe boundaries and exists both in the real-world and in the fictional universe you created. This would be appropriate for the Abrahamic religions, for example. But I don't know how well it would be applicable to the Ubuntu believe system.

However, when you would like to explore the Ubuntu believe system in a fantastic context, you could easily camouflage it by just using different terms for everything. You would then have a believe system which is in every way identical to the Ubuntu philosophy, but just uses different terms. This would also give you an excuse for any personal liberties you take with the interpretation of that believe system (both intentionally or unintentionally).

  • +1 Rename the ideology in your book, and you can still acknowledge the inspiration in the afterword. Mar 27 '15 at 19:31

Possible consequences:

People get mad: Especially if the story gets popular. And the madness can come from unexpected directions. Good example is Harry Potter which is claimed to promote Satanism an Witchcraft by Christian community

People will try to correct you: Especially in fiction book and if becomes popular. It is clear that you cannot describe the Ubuntu philosophy to every detail and every possible scenario. If the book gets popular, however, expect that some people will try to tell you (through critics) that your book should get to more details.

People may use your book as propaganda Obviously, this depends on how much the philosophy will be inside your original book and how good will it look. And also, this obviously happens only the really REALLY popular books. But you wanted to know the consequences, so here you go :)

P.S.: This answer was written from Ubuntu operating system. Maybe consider giving the philosophy different name, since it is inside fictional world


I see no problem with this. There are many books that take a real world thought system and put it into a fictional universe. Think of samurai western movies, buddhist monks in space operas, meditation and yoga and all kinds of philosophical views in countless novels or films, and not to forget christian values reflected almost everywhere.

Apart from the specific thought system you use, there is nothing uncommon about what you do.


I don't know you, so I don't know your level of familiarity with Ubuntu philosophy and the cultural lexicon that stems from it. However, it is worth noting that a situation such as you describe is not at all uncommon. A great many English language authors (for example) have been inspired by philosophical ideals not native to the culture they were raised in. Terms like Tao and karma and many, many others became common in English language usage (and other languages as well) due to influences like this.

Many of these authors were dabblers. Their understanding of the terms they used was incomplete and influenced by their own cultural ideals and biases. When their works became widely disseminated, the altered concepts then became well-known in their home cultures. Frequently, this meant that they supplemented the meaning of the original, non-derivative terms. It's also worth noting that this time of cultural migration tends to be conspicuously one-directional.

Pavel provides a pretty good example of this process in his answer, above. The name Ubuntu was given to a build of the operating system Linux, and for many people this will always be its primary meaning. Just as for many people, Java will be a programming language (or a synonym for coffee) rather than the location of the Indonesian capital Jakarta. There are many other such examples, I am only pulling from computer science because that's what's familiar to me.

Of course you can decide yourself whether or not this is at all relevant to your decision making process.


I think you walk a dangerous line here, especially considering your subject position (by your profile picture, at least, you appear white, and while there are certainly white South Africans, their presence is due to a long history of violent colonial oppression). You come dangerously close to engaging in cultural appropriation; by being, as lea writes above, a "dabbler," rather than someone immersed in that culture, you run the risk of dangerously oversimplifying the philosophy, especially considering the truncated description that you offer here.

It's also important to remember that, at least to some theorists, ideology is not simply a set of ideas, but one that has the ability to shape (or even determine) the way in which people recognize themselves as individuals, and in lifting the Ubuntu philosophy from the culture, you run the risk of mass marketing the cultural ideas to people for whom they do not bear the same sort of cultural significance. In essence, you are taking something from a group of people by using the name Ubuntu for what you are describing, and by taking that set of complex cultural phenomena out of the culture from which they originate, and putting it into a culture of your invention.

I thus have two recommendations:

  1. Call it something else, something that does not have the same sort of cultural meanings and regional specificity.
  2. Go for it, but be very prepared for people to find fault with your analysis, and to go so far as to call you racist for doing what you're doing. Because that will almost certainly happen, especially given the climate surrounding contemporary identity politics.

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