views updated


A term used loosely to describe a reaction of (neo)traditional religion against the pressures of modernity, fundamentalism became a widespread topic of interest in the media and the academy during the last quarter of the twentieth century. According to many observers, fundamentalism is a worldwide phenomenon, arising in various societies with differing cultural backgrounds and experiences of modernity. The original understanding of fundamentalism, however, took shape in an American Protestant contexta context that initially informed popular and scholarly notions of fundamentalism and sometimes led to simplistic comparative interpretations. For this reason, among others, critics have questioned the viability of fundamentalism as a universal religious category, especially when applied to non-Western societies; and comparative studies of fundamentalism have been marked by self-conscious attempts to prove the existence of the phenomenon that they are presumably examining.


As a movement, fundamentalism emerged in response to the rise of liberal views within American Protestant denominations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Liberal thinking had been influenced by evolutionary theory and German "higher criticism," a type of biblical criticism that sought to interpret the text in light of new philological and archaeological evidence, free from dogmatic and confessional assumptions. Liberals eschewed traditional theology, with its attendant belief in miracles and the supernatural, fostering instead a rational, human-centered vision of Christianity. Most offensive to fundamentalists, liberals turned accepted doctrines of faith, such as the creation story, virgin birth, atonement, and resurrection, into figurative myths, replete with meaning but devoid of historical reality. For liberals, the findings of science and the secularism of the day were fully compatible with Christianity rightly understood. Indeed, liberal theology fostered an image of Christ as immanent within the culture and thus an active force for the kind of progressive social change that modernity itself seemed to promise.

For fundamentalists, the accommodating trend of the liberals threatened to undermine both Christian faith and the moral society it had nurtured in the United States. The most coherent reply to the liberal challenge came in The Fundamentals, a multivolume set of essays that began publication in 1910 and lent the movement its name. While the essays did little to stem the liberal tide, they did serve to clarify the ideological rift within Protestantism. Sedate and scholarly, The Fundamentals appealed to an intellectual audience. The broader public, however, took notice of the doctrinal debate when the populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (18601925) toured the country warning of the grave danger posed by liberals. The debate reached a national audienceand something of a fevered pitchin the Scopes trial of 1925, which saw John Thomas Scopes (19001970), a Tennessee public school teacher, charged with breaching state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution.

Bryan, one of the prosecutors, presented the case as a referendum on the eternal truths of the Bible and their revered place in public life. The main defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, made academic freedom and separation of church and state the issues at stake. Clearly in violation of the law, Scopes was convicted, though the verdict was later overturned on a technicality. Bryan and the fundamentalist cause, however, emerged from the trial the real losers. Under harsh questioning from Darrow, Bryan proved incapable of offering a rational defense of biblical literalism; and news reports, especially those written by the Baltimore critic H. L. Mencken (18801956), portrayed fundamentalists as anti-intellectual and backwardan image from which they never fully recovered.

Political and Cultural Developments

Early detractors of fundamentalism suspected political motives behind the movement, but with few exceptions, fundamentalists avoided participation in the political arena. In fact, following the Scopes trial, fundamentalists maintained a low-key presence in the United States. By the late 1970s, however, fundamentalists had split into two distinct wings: separatists who viewed politics as a distraction from the main task of all true Christians, the salvation of individual souls; and activists who regarded social and political engagement as the best means of spreading the message of Christ. The latter returned to the public scene in force, and they began to assert their political voice in both local and national elections. Joining the fundamentalist political effort was a different, though related, group of Christian conservatives, the Evangelicals, whose numbers had grown dramatically throughout the first half of the twentieth century. This combined force came to be called the Religious Right or the New Christian Right and, as the political vector suggests, was closely linked with the concerns and candidates of the Republican Party. At work behind this conservative coalition was a cultural realignment that had been brewing for decades. Interestingly enough, this realignment was signaled by the presidency of Jimmy Carter (1924), a Democrat and professed born-again Southern Baptist.

The cultural agenda of Christian conservatives was shaped and broadcast by organizations such as the Moral Majority, Christian Roundtable, and, later, the Christian Coalition, whose goal was to oppose and turn back the tide of political liberalism. The United States, so these fundamentalist organizations claimed, had been founded as a Christian nation and had achieved its preeminent place in world history because of its commitment to Bible-based morality; but liberal thinking and policies had led the nation astray, and signs of decline were apparent: increasing drug use and sexual promiscuity, abortion on demand, the high rate of out-of-wedlock births and divorce, tolerance of homosexuality, absence of religion in the public schools, and court-supported attacks on public displays of faith. For fundamentalists, America's continued God-ordained prosperity depended on a return to traditional religious values and, by theological extension, a commitment to conservative political ideals, such as unwavering patriotism and anticommunism, a strong national defense, support for Israel, fiscal conservatism, and small government.

Gush Emunim in Israel

Gush Emunim or Bloc of the Faithful emerged as a faction within Israel's National Religious Party (NRP) in 1974, following the shock of the Yom Kippur War and the subsequent land concessions to Egypt in the Sinai. Gush members eventually split from the NRP, focusing their efforts on settlements and territorial expansion; but the movement's effective, sometimes militant activism for a greater Zionist state made it an important force in the nation's political debate over borders and peace. Through insightful manipulation of political divisions and popular Zionist sentiments within Israel, Gush managed to claim and build settlements upon strategic plots of land in what some regarded as the occupied territories but Gush maintained was part of Eretz Yisrael, holy ground deeded to the people of Israel in perpetuity by God in the Bible. The "ideotheology" (Sprinzak) that informed the movement traced back to the theological Zionism of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (18641935) and the radicalization of this theology by his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook (18911982). In the context of Israel's debate over its territorial future and relations with its Arab neighbors, "Kookism" (Aran) gave rise to a religious nationalist fundamentalism in which theology triumphed over policies of the secular state and compromise over territory was tantamount to a breach of God's covenant.

This blend of moral theology, religious nationalism, and conservative public policy had broad appeal among the electorate and helped solidify support for Ronald Reagan (19112004) in the 1980 presidential election. Throughout Reagan's two terms in office, fundamentalists enjoyed a measure of public attention and success that would have been hard to imagine in the aftermath of the Scopes trial. Fundamentalists basked in the glow of their newfound strength and sought to retake the cultural ground that they felt they had lost to liberals in the shaping of law, education, the arts, the family, and politics. Liberals, by contrast, believed that fundamentalists had, in contravention of the separation of church and state, hijacked the political process and were attempting to impose their narrow religious agenda on the country, thereby undermining the United States' civil contract of democratic pluralism. The contestation between conservatives, both political and religious, and liberals to define national identity grew so acrimonious during the 1980s that it became known as the "culture wars." It was during these wars that fundamentalism began to emerge as a comparative tool among academics, and the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran provided the major impetus for such comparisons.

Islamic Revolution in Iran

The image of bearded clerics ruling a heretofore avowedly secular and Western-friendly Islamic country sent shock waves through the West and the Muslim world. Of particular concern among political commentators and scholars was the power of religion to contribute to the kind of revolutionary political transformation that students of history had come to associate only with modern forces like nationalism and Marxism. A revolution in the name of religion suggested to many a reassertion of premodern thinking and hence a step backward in Iran's development. Much the same view surrounded the rise to prominence of Protestant fundamentalism in the United States, which occurred against the backdrop of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Indeed, for many Western liberals, the two events had obvious dangerous parallels: a religious takeover of politics, retrograde attitudes and policies toward women, religious intolerance, and suppression of dissent. These very themes received popular treatment in Margaret Atwood's 1986 novel The Handmaid's Tale, which portrays the United States as a theocratic fundamentalist nation along the lines of postrevolution Iran.

Bharatiya Janata Party in India

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or Indian People's Party, was founded in 1980 after Hindu nationalists, working through the Janata Party, faired poorly in general elections against the secular Congress Party, which had ruled India since independence in 1947. The BJP drew its members from the infamous Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, founded in 1925, a radical Hindu nationalist organization, one of whose former members had assassinated Mohandas K. Gandhi (18691948). The BJP worked to rally support for a vision of modern India that was grounded in the idea of Hindutva or Hindu-ness, an idea first propounded by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (18831966). Hindutva portrayed India's diverse ethnic and religious factions as historical offshoots of Hinduism; and since all Indians were at base Hindus, Hindus alone were best able to express the political identity and desires of the nation. Here again, the fundamentalism at work takes the form of hyperreligious nationalism that offers citizens a cultural identity at odds with the more secular model of civic pluralism. The volatile potential of this cultural and political chauvinism manifested itself in the dispute over the Babri Masjid, which saw BJP-instigated mobs attack, in 1991, and later destroy, in 1992, a mosque at Ayodhya that Hindu nationalists claimed had been built over a temple dedicated to the god Rama. Despite the immediate political setback suffered by the BJP, the party went on to great political success, leading some to question the commonly held view that the BJP was incapable of ruling a truly democratic nation (Juergensmeyer, 1995; Hansen).

To explain the revolutionary turn in Iran, scholars of the region drew on traditional social-movement theory, especially the work of Max Weber (18641920), whose interpretive connection to fundamentalism remained at the time unarticulated. In fact, it was in the course of analyzing the Islamic revolution in Iran, and less dramatic but equally worrying events elsewhere in the Middle East (e.g., Egypt, Algeria, and Syria), that such connections began to emerge. Scholars largely agreed (1) that the cause of the Islamic revolution lay in a crisis of cultural authenticity brought about by the Shah's failed attempts at political and social modernization; (2) that the response to this crisis was the molding of traditional Shii ideas and symbols into an ideological force for change; and (3) that the ideological formulation of Islam exhibited in the Islamic revolution was part of a larger pattern of political religion common throughout the Middle East and the larger Muslim world. Not all scholars viewed fundamentalism as a useful tool for explaining this trend, and among those who did, there were various definitions of fundamentalism proffered. Two important interrelated questions, however, informed the general debate about this trend that some called "fundamentalism." First, is it a uniquely modern phenomenon? Or is it part of a cyclic pattern of social response that can be found throughout Islamic or world history? Second, is it a progressive movement, one that will allow developing Muslim countries to move forward along the modernization path? Or is it in fact a regressive revolutionary force, one that will impede hopeful advances that had already begun to reshape Muslim societies?

Scholars divided over the modern-versus-perennial question, but, like the academic debate about the nation, a consensus pointed to a modern point of origin for fundamentalism. Scholars also disagreed about fundamentalism's potential to contribute positively to the challenges of developing nations, but, once again, the tendency was to emphasize the backward-looking and thus retarding nature of the movement. Those who advocated a fundamentalist paradigm for understanding the Islamic revolution recognized that the distinction between developing and developed nations prevented direct comparisons between Iran and America. Instead, they proposed a general set of characteristics that defined fundamentalism across social and cultural boundaries, the two most common of which were a totalizing worldviewsubsuming every aspect of life under religionand scripturalisma devotion to the inerrancy and immutability of sacred Scripture. Fundamentalists, then, rooted in the sole authority of sacred Scripture, approached the world in uncomplicated and uncompromising terms, ordering their lives and their communities (however limited or expansive based on their power) according to a strict set of God-ordained guidelines that separated the saved from the damned.

Problems with the Fundamentalist Paradigm

Fundamentalism proved a popular and important idea because it held out the promise of accounting for perceived patterns of thinking and behavior in diverse societies with differing religious and political cultures. Critics of the fundamentalist paradigm, however, saw in the patterns an inherent Western bias that created problems for meaningful comparison. For example, Protestant fundamentalists in the United States defined themselves over and against liberal trends by highlighting their scripturalist views. In the Muslim world, by contrast, the vast majority of Muslims expressed literalist attitudes toward the Koran. In fact, some scholars claimed that Muslim societies were dominated by scripturalist fundamentalism, and that their successful modernization depended on the development of a more liberal interpretive strand in Islam. Hence a supposed comparative characteristic that serves to identify and analyze a faction of the religious population in one context, the United States, loses this capacity in another, the Muslim world.

Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt

Founded in Egypt in 1928, some fifty years prior to the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood is considered the premier Sunni Islamist organization in the Muslim world. The writings of its founder, Hassan al-Banna (19051949), and its main ideologue, Sayyid Qutb (19061966), have become standard reading for Muslim activists. Both figures were martyrs to the Islamist cause, killed by an authoritarian state that eliminated sources of authority that it could not easily control. The preaching and activism of the Brotherhood set the stage for a new kind of Muslim reformer, one who engaged society and confronted the state on a broad spectrum of issues. Indeed, through its array of clinics, schools, businesses, and mosques, the Brotherhood tried to create a mini-society that modeled the power of the Islamic alternative to Western-style modernization. This alternative included the rejection of the nation-state as a legitimate form of Muslim political organization, though some scholars believe that the Brotherhood's ultimate goal was to replace secular nationalism with religious nationalism. In either case, the Brotherhood's proposed "Islamic order"the notion of a society and polity integrated according to Islamic cultural values and ideasserved, and continues to serve, as a challenge to the Western-leaning policies of the Egyptian government.

A similar problem arose with the pattern of a totalizing worldview. Unlike their more civic-minded and secularized fellow citizens, American Protestant fundamentalists may indeed see the private and public spheres as indivisible and necessarily religiously ordered. To speak of the same phenomenon in Muslim societies, however, is to miss the overarching role that religion has come to play in the political process. Certain groups in Muslim societies may be totalizing in their worldview, but the search for cultural authenticity has also led to a basic pattern of politicized religion among all factions. Fundamentalism, then, even if it were deemed to exist in the form of Islamism, is just a small portion of the public Islam that dominates the lives of modern Muslims. And with Islamic ideas and symbols being deployed by so many Muslim citizens with differing political agendas, how can one reasonably highlight a single faction as blending religion and politics in a distinctively different manner? For this reason, some scholars of the Muslim world avoid the term "fundamentalism," preferring instead terms like "Islamic resurgence" (Dessouki) or "Muslim politics" (Eickelman and Piscatori) to capture the multipurpose political ends to which the Islamic tradition has been put.

The above-mentioned descriptors of fundamentalism clearly contained proscriptive judgments about its rational viability. When applied to American Protestantism, totalism and scripturalism often implied that fundamentalists were out of step with modern, mainstream thinking about both Christianity and the place of religion in American public life, thus isolating the group as an aberrant form of religiosity. By contrast, when applied to entire Muslim societies, as they often were, these same descriptors leveled a more far-reaching social critique. Here fundamentalism served as a warning sign of a failure in the process of modernization, for totalism and scripturalism were thought to interfere with the kind of progressive politics and progressive religion that developing societies needed to achieve. Here too the notion of progress is clearly borrowed from a Western model, where political modernization and secularization are viewed as one, and where religions have presumably made peace with this arrangement. Not all interpretations of fundamentalism suffer from the same cultural bias, but the term has been shadowed by the uses to which it has been put.

State of the Field

Two interrelated issues have come to dominate fundamentalism as a field of study. The first relates to the shifting meaning of the phenomenon depending on whether the focus of analysis is a specific case, a regional culture, or a cross-cultural comparison. Narrowly defined examples bring out important nuances that are often glossed over when attempting to aggregate common patterns regionally or internationally. And scholars who are prepared to see a particular case in terms of fundamentalism, rightly defined, are sometimes less convinced once this case has been situated in a schema of fundamentalist types. By the 1990s, fundamentalism had become something of a cottage industry within the academy, and the result was a burgeoning number of supposed cases around the world. Typing these cases, however, has remained an elusive task, with scholars tending to select those examples that best fit their analytic agenda. In the end, the proliferation of fundamentalisms created a situation where the parameters of the field became more indistinct and fundamentalism itself more difficult to comprehend.

The other issue, and a more hopeful sign, is the growing realization that the comparative study of fundamentalism has become entangled in a global transformation of politics and culture at the end of the twentieth century. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the declining ability of the West to impose its policies and values around the world, indigenous ethnic and religious identitiesoften regarded as fundamentalisthave re-asserted themselves, especially in those regions that were once the object of Cold War competitive interest. For the Western academy, then, tracking the rise of fundamentalisms worldwide has been a lesson in the limits of the West. Thus what began as a study of the antimodern, antisecular "other" evolved into a study of the Western self (Marty and Appleby).

See also Christianity ; Islam ; Judaism ; Orthodoxy ; Orthopraxy ; Secularization and Secularism .


Appleby, R. Scott, ed. Spokesmen for the Despised: Fundamentalist Leaders of the Middle East. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Aran, Gideon. "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Land: The Spiritual Authorities of Jewish-Zionist Fundamentalism in Israel." In Spokesmen for the Despised: Fundamentalist Leaders of the Middle East, edited by R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Bruce, Steve. The Rise and Fall of the New Christian Right: Conservative Protestant Politics in America, 19781988. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Dekmejian, R. Hrair. Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1985.

Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal, ed. Islamic Resurgence in the Arab World. New York: Praeger, 1982.

Eickelman, Dale F., and James Piscatori. Muslim Politics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Hansen, Thomas Blom. The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Hunter, James Davison. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: Basic Books, 1991.

Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Juergensmeyer, Mark. "Antifundamentalism." In Fundamentalisms Comprehended. Vol. 5. Edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

. The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Lawrence, Bruce B. Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt against the Modern Age. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989.

Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 18701925. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby. "The Fundamentalism Project: A User's Guide." In Fundamentalisms Observed, vol. 1, edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Munson, Henry. Islam and Revolution in the Middle East. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

Nielsen, Niels C., Jr. Fundamentalism, Mythos, and World Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Riesebrodt, Martin. Pious Passion: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran. Translated by Don Reneau. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Sandeen, Ernest R. The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 18001930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Sprinzak, Ehud. The Ascendance of Israel's Radical Right. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Watt, William Montgomery. Islamic Fundamentalism and Modernity. London and New York: Routledge, 1988.

Jeffrey T. Kenney


views updated


The multiplicity of religious fundamentalisms makes a generic application of the term fundamentalism difficult. The word has been applied to minority movements in nearly every global religious tradition, although it originated within American Protestantism as a category of theological self-designation. Modern scholarship suggests that continued use of the term overly simplifies the international array of religious movements to which it has been applied and that the category should be deleted from the academic lexicon. However, eschewal of the word among academics would do little to alter its popularity in public media as a religious designation. For journalists the term denotes a reactionary and conservative theology.


This general usage requires detailed analysis. What does it mean to be reactionary? What defines a conservative theology? In this entry fundamentalism is evaluated in such general terms, and then a focus on individual religious traditions provides an opportunity to see where fundamentalisms have been found in particular sects. Throughout this analysis it is important to keep in mind that fundamentalism originated in a particularly Christian and solely American context. It has been applied in other areas by scholars eager to explain a broad swath of subsequent religious revivals even though none of those movements are linked historically. Fundamentalism is a comparative category, binding traditions and people otherwise unconnected by geography, genealogy, or practice. As with all comparative categories, fundamentalism obscures as much as it reveals, reducing some complexities and highlighting certain commonalities.

At the most general level fundamentalism emerged in European and North American scholarship as a shorthand referent for any movement in which beleaguered believers attempt to preserve their distinctive identity as faithful adherents through articulate opposition to modernity. Fundamentalism is thus a rhetorical act of corporate self-preservation. In this vein the American sociologists Jeffrey Hadden and Anson Shupe designate fundamentalism as "a proclamation of reclaimed authority over a sacred tradition which is to be reinstated as an antidote for a society that has strayed from its cultural moorings" (Hadden and Shupe 1989, p. 110). Inevitably, then, fundamentalisms emerge at moments of perceived economic or political instability.

Fundamentalism therefore includes an elaborately described, encroaching enemy. Sometimes the enemy is the perceived secularization of an increasingly decadent society; at other times it is the expanding involvement of women in the public sphere. Regardless of the specific object of antagonism, a necessary component of a fundamentalist discourse is the perception of societal transition from bad to worse, from a romanticized remembrance of order to a nearly apocalyptic designation of disorder. This explains why fundamentalisms have been identified in highly industrialized as well as developing nations. The prerequisite for fundamentalism is thus not a certain level of modernity but a certain psychology of chaos. In a purported maelstrom of economics, shifting gender relationships, and political upheaval, fundamentalism is a language of clarity, a reclamation of reinstated order after an imagined or real destabilization.

Fundamentalist language is oppositional and dualistic, ordering the world against instability with a sharply defined morality. The source of that reification is a particular scriptural text or set of scriptural interpretations advocated vociferously as the primary fortification against the imagined enemy. Islamic studies scholar Bruce Lawrence focused on this scholastic side of fundamentalism in his definition of fundamentalism as "the affirmation of religious authority as holistic and absolute, admitting of neither criticism nor reduction" (Lawrence 1989, p. 27). This religious authority is determined by a cohort of designated leaders, almost always male, that offers a closed interpretation of Scripture. Although many fundamentalisms experience success as populist movements, they always begin from authoritarian scholasticism accompanying an identifiable sacred text, not from a popular groundswell. For there to be a fundamentalism, there must be a scholarly designation of the fundamentals. Those fundamentals are described as eternal, unchanging, and located in divinely inspired Scriptures.


From that scholastic genesis fundamentalist ideas become fundamentalist movements as groups of self-styled true believers cohere around and deploy the language of fundamentals. Religious studies scholars have argued that the fortification of this recast religious community is the primary practice of fundamentalists. Separation from encroaching modernity forces fundamentalists into an enclave. In that narrowed epistemic and social world, protecting uniformity of belief and maintaining the purity of practice become driving principles. Committed practitioners participate in a vast subculture of activities that are meant to provide viable alternatives to existing modern institutions, including retail centers, educational venues, and militant outfits designed to maintain the sovereignty of the enclave.

Because of their isolationism and discursive antagonism to the dominant culture, fundamentalists often have been described as antimodern. Newer scholarship has countered that profile by emphasizing the consistent use of popular media, new technologies, and academic platforms to propagate and refine fundamentalisms. Fundamentalism cannot be wholly antimodern if it incorporates the newest devices to televise and disseminate the fundamentals. In addition to the antimodern designation, fundamentalism has been conflated with reactionary cultural nativism. Again, such a perspective fails to acknowledge the racial diversity and political variety under the auspices of self-proclaimed fundamentalist movements.

Perhaps the only accurate criticism directed toward fundamentalists is that of being misogynist. Across cultures, fundamentalists have divided the genders by machismo and motherhood, with women primarily assigned to the latter occupation. An idealized family unit propagates the fundamentalist enclave, with each member of the family fulfilling a position determined by nostalgia and unhistorical remembrance. As a result the reproductive and economic status of women has dominated the political agenda of fundamentalists. One scholar labeled this gender inerrancy, referring to the non-negotiable designation of gender roles and performance standards inscribed by fundamentalist theology. This inerrancy is not without interpretive latitude, however; the gender messages are practiced more messily than such a dichotomous view suggests. For many fundamentalist women the limits imposed by inerrancy offer liberating pathways within a suffocating postfeminist topography.


Fundamentalism remains a generic category only insofar as it possesses interpretive mobility. In this description three definitive cross-cultural attributes have been posited: scriptural reclamation, social isolationism, and gender chauvinism. Emphasis has been placed on the diversity of economic, political, and historical structures that may surround emergent fundamentalisms. The only constants in fundamentalism are the transportable discourse of sacred texts, the fear of an external threat to a predetermined social cohort, and a didactic definition of gendered occupation. Beyond those linguistic determinants, fundamentalisms are not fundamentalisms. For example, many journalists collapse religious revivals, revitalization movements, and fundamentalism into a single form of fundamentalism. However, fundamentalism should be distinguishable by the particular rhetorical tones that are emphasized here. Within specific traditions, however, even further specificity can be brought to the category of fundamentalism.


Historians of religion point to the first decades of the American twentieth century when looking for an initiating incident in the history of fundamentalism. Three events pressed this category into the American imagination: the publication of The Fundamentals (1910–1915), a series of denominational splinterings, and the 1925 Tennessee trial of John Scopes, a young high school science teacher, for teaching evolution.

The publication of The Fundamentals codified the scholastic position. Biblical criticism that was supported by archaeological evidence worried many Christians. They believed that the rise of secular academic knowledge might erode the epistemological sway of the Scriptures. As a comprehensive response to that intellectual threat, The Fundamentals was the brainchild of Lyman Stewart (1840–1923), founder of the Union Oil Company of California. Stewart designed The Fundamentals as a series of ninety articles by sixty-four authors reinscribing the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Moderate in tone, the articles avoided political topics, focusing on a grounded defense of the Scriptures through careful rebuttals of contemporary scholarship. Approximately a third of the essays guarded the Bible against the new criticism, arguing that the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were without inconsistency. Another third of the essays discussed foundational theological questions such as the meaning of the Trinity and the role of sin. The remaining pamphlets were diverse, addressing everything from the modern heresies (such as Christian Science, Roman Catholicism in the United States, and Mormonism) to missionary ambitions. Any definition of fundamentalism that relies on The Fundamentals would emphasize the scholastic bent of the movement, a scrupulous scholarly effort to reconcile Christianity with the new criticism.

Alongside the publication of The Fundamentals, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted five fundamentals in 1910. Those fundamentals included an affirmation of scriptural inerrancy, the deity and virgin birth of Jesus, and the atonement, physical resurrection, and miraculous powers of Christ. Subsequent to that Presbyterian announcement, several denominations, including the Presbyterians (both North and South), the Northern and Southern Baptist Conventions, and the Disciples of Christ, would splinter into modernist and fundamentalist camps.

The majority of Protestant adherents could accept the biblical orthodoxy of The Fundamentals but found the pessimistic separatism of fundamentalism too divisive. The more militant fundamentalists broke from their home denominations, founding either new congregations or interdenominational fundamentalist organizations. Thus, rather than being an intellectual subset within American Protestantism as a whole, fundamentalists quickly became defined by their belligerent separatism. Significant to those disputes was the explicit deployment of the descriptor fundamentalist by Curtis Lee Laws (1868–1946), the editor of the Baptist Watchman-Examiner. In a 1920 article Laws argued that the fundamentalist was a Christian prepared to "do battle royal for the Fundamentals" (Marty and Appleby 1991, p. 2). Militancy had become a determining metaphor for Protestant fundamentalism.

Conservative discourse climaxed in the 1920s when fundamentalism simultaneously reached the peak of its public presence and the denouement of its denominational sway. The Scopes trial offered a national advertisement for fundamentalist anti-intellectualism rather than a showcase for the scholarly prowess of The Fundamentals. Moreover, it created a battleground for fundamentalists eager to translate military metaphors into an entrenched reaction to modernist intellectual arrogance.

The stakes of the case were simple: Between 1923 and 1925 four southern states tried to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. In 1925 Tennessee joined that effort by passing the Butler Act, which made it illegal "to teach any theory that denies the Story of Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animal" (Tenn. HB 185, 1925). Many prominent Tennesseans were uncomfortable with that antievolution position. A Dayton druggist met with Scopes to discuss tactics of resistance to the Butler Act. They knew that the American Civil Liberties Union had offered to support any Tennessee teacher willing to defy the statute. Together, Scopes and the druggist decided to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

After the arrest was carried out, the prominent defense attorney Clarence Darrow (1857–1938) took Scopes's case, with William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), a leading Presbyterian layman and three-time presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket, serving as the prosecutor. Although Bryan was an articulate expositor of scholastic fundamentalism, the town embodied many of the worst caricatures of American rural anti-intellectualism. That spirit, rather than Bryan's elegant condemnations of social Darwinism, became the public face of fundamentalism. Despite Bryan's successful prosecution of Scopes, the acerbic and mocking indictments of journalists such as H. L. Mencken (1880–1956) defined fundamentalism in American culture for decades to come.

After those sectarian splits and debates over creationism, Protestant fundamentalists retrenched. Some left the movement, forming a conservative wing of American evangelicalism. Others, such as Bob Jones (1883–1968) and J. Frank Norris (1877–1952), adopted an increasingly sectarian stance and established educational institutions to propagate their theological outlook. After the internationally renowned evangelist Billy Graham (b. 1918) accepted the sponsorship of the ecumenical Protestant Council in 1957, the majority of Protestants focused on collaborative rather than separatist efforts.

That continued to be the trend until the public return of separatist fundamentalism in the late 1970s under the auspices of Jerry Falwell's (b. 1933) Moral Majority. That manifestation of Protestant belief focused on the failures of American culture and national policy, casting American culture in the role of the enemy. Instead of Scripture, ministers such as Falwell appealed to romanticized visions of the American past in which patriotism, Christian commitment, and family stability purportedly were assured. Although the Moral Majority never represented a statistical majority within American Christianity, its political consequences were far reaching. Through the subsequent decades Falwell's dedication to Christian conservatism in American politics could be discerned in vitriolic public disputes over family planning, scientific research, and public morality.

Falwell's version of conservative Protestantism has been the public face of U.S. fundamentalism. However, within evangelical enclaves other versions of political participation and self-identity have been popularized. For example, in the Women's Aglow Fellowship, Pentecostal women challenge simple generalizations about fundamentalist gender dynamics. The largest women's evangelical organ-ization in the world, Women's Aglow is an international interdenominational group of women who meet outside the formal church structure for prayer, communal worship, and therapeutic testimony. Rather than imagining fundamentalist politics as misogynist activism, the work of Women's Aglow shows how the theological language of conservative Protestantism offers women intimate, productive relationships with God. Cast within the separate spheres mentality of fundamentalist gender relations, such organizations show the feminist discursive possibilities provided by a literalist reading of Scripture.


In Protestantism the history of fundamentalism can be seen as a line of descent, with a genealogy from The Fundamentals to Falwell. Abroad, among other religious traditions, the emergence of fundamentalisms cannot be described that clearly. Islamic fundamentalisms have emerged in Egypt, Nigeria, Iraq, and the West Bank, among many other places. The range of catalysts is as diverse as the landscapes that have produced those movements, including the experience of colonialism and its aftermath as well as opposition to emergent forms of global governance and economic imperialism.

Again and again Islamic fundamentalism movements (often described as Islamist movements or Islamism) mirror the themes described at the beginning of this entry. In particular, Islamism includes the anointing of a new intellectual class that replaces the traditional religious leaders, or ulama. When local leaders responded ineptly to the deterioration of public services in Upper Egypt and overcrowding in Cairo, that paved the way for the Muslim Brotherhood to ascend to national prominence in theological and political circles. Similarly, the unsuccessful secular management of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) led the resident refugee population to cohere around Hamas, an Islamic movement that defines itself as the righteous inheritor of Palestinian leadership. In the Egyptian and Palestinian instances as well as others, the established Islamic authorities are replaced by a more strident voice that advocates theological clarity over and above reformist caution.

Islamist ideology therefore is defined by two fundamentals: the conviction that Islamic law, or sharia, is the only valid system for regulating human life, and the idea that a true and faithful Muslim society can be achieved only through an Islamic state. The emphasis on nation-state formation separates Islamism from the formulation of fundamentalism described above. For Islamists political formation is an extension of the enclave culture embedded within fundamentalist discourse. Pan-Islamic unity has always been elusive, however, and so Islamisms compete with one another for members. Fluidity of membership between specific national cohorts is definitive, particularly because the pool of participants is, as in the American example, quite homogeneous. Radical Islamist groups are populated largely by young male, urban, educated, lower-class to middle-class Muslims, men longing for membership in a society directed toward a purposeful response to a modernity that is imagined to be increasingly secular and disturbingly decadent. Whereas in Protestant fundamentalism that political aspiration has been sequestered by a milder conservatism, the definitive attribute of Islamism has been the creation of enclaves bent on remaking their worlds, not merely escaping from them.

Those remade worlds are dictated by strict interpretations of sharia. Many Muslim countries differentiate between women and men on issues of property ownership, marriage rights, dress, and educational opportunities. Muslim fundamentalist movements base those differentiating legal codes on the belief that the laws of sharia demonstrate divine differentiation between the sexes. Because the majority of sharia was encoded before the modern period, those laws represent cultural restrictions that dominated pre-Islamic Arabia. From honor killings to the wearing of veils, women in more traditional Islamic cultures often are prescribed roles that make them subservient to their husbands, brothers, and sons. However, for many Muslim women, dressing modestly and participating in separate spheres of influence are a source of power offered to them by God through a strict reading of Scripture.


Observers of Judaism have been hesitant to deploy the term fundamentalism. One historian has noted that fundamentalism normally is associated with a total rejection of pluralism and some form of textual inerrancy. In principle both themes are disputed within any practice of Judaism. However, the term fundamentalism has been used to describe contemporary ultra-Orthodox descendants from the Hasidic communities of Eastern Europe as well as Israelis who oppose the return of occupied territory on biblical grounds. Included in the latter cohort are Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) and others referred to as the haredim leumiyium (nationalist Orthodox) who redefined Jewish national renewal in strictly religious rather than economic or political terms. Between those two cadres—the ultra-Orthodox and the nationalist Orthodox—one can see two contrasting forms of fundamentalist enclave building: one is characterized by a privatized enclave culture and the other by a publicly militarized fundamentalist expression.

The overarching goal of any Jewish fundamentalism, as with the Muslim and Protestant fundamentalisms described above, is to offer an articulate alternative to a threatening, dominant cultural paradigm. For Jewish advocates of conservative renewal, the threat is articulated largely in terms of Jewish compromise and assimilation, not as a secular decadence or a scholastic critique. Protestant fundamentalists illustrate academic anxiety, and Islamists are emblematic of postcolonial nation-state formation; Jewish fundamentalists differ from those groups in their construction of an assimilative ethnic identity as the primary enemy.

For Protestants and Islamists the enemy is outside the fold; for Jews the enemy is within Judaism. For example, many Israeli settlements have arisen not from anxiety about Palestinian encroachment but from fear of Israeli compromise. This was the case with the formation of Rachelim, a settlement on the West Bank founded by women mourning the death of Rachel Drouk, a settler and Gush Emunim member who was killed in a Palestinian attack in 1991. Drouk died en route to protest the beginning of peace negotiations in Madrid under a banner that read "You don't sell out your mother" (Brink and Mencher 1997). The intonation of Drouk's plotted protest (don't compromise your mother's sacrifice) and the subsequent act of mourning that created a new settlement focused on a fear of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, of Jewish assimilation to secular political compromise. Rachelim was a militarist response to predicted acquiescence.

The emergence of Rachelim points to an additional complexity offered by Jewish fundamentalisms: a militarist role for women. That position also is provided within parallel Islamic movements that allow women to participate in the sacrificial acts of holy war, or jihad. Rachelim is one symbolic instance of the ways women complicate the subordinate domesticity inscribed by Orthodox renewal. Using scriptural interpretations of female mourning rituals, the women responding to Drouk's death applied the fundamentals to a new social order that included their organizational ascent while still cohering to scriptural prescriptions. Although the dominating discourse of fundamentalism is gender chauvinism, emphasis on textual inerrancy offers rhetorical space for insurrectionist interpretations that seek power within the verses.


Hinduism and Buddhism are neither monotheistic nor condoned by singular sacred texts. As a result their conscription into fundamentalist ranks is discursively difficult. Nevertheless, scholars have discerned in both predominantly Buddhist and predominantly Hindu societies family resemblances that match the conclusions of the Fundamentalism Project directed and edited by Martin E. Marty and Scott Appleby and operated out of the University of Chicago from 1988 to 1995. That research concluded that fundamentalists understand truth to be revealed and unified, envision themselves as a part of a cosmic struggle, demonize their opposition, are led disproportionately by males, and seek to overturn the accepted distribution of power.

Therefore, fundamentalisms may be found even in religious cultures that lack a redacted scriptural source. Whether this system of family resemblance will survive the next decades of scholarship is problematic; some question the utility of the term fundamentalism in traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, which resist theological reduction. Those critics advocate "revitalization movements" as a more accurate descriptor of the inchoate conservatisms that emerge from non-Christian religious bodies (Smith 1996, pp. 402-403).

On the Indian subcontinent, for instance, Hindu nationalism (referred to as Hindutva, or Hinduness) often is termed a revival of Hinduism because it promotes a nationalist identity that is based on a redacted description of the ideal Hindu. The central belief of Hindutva is that a Hindu is anyone who considers India to be his or her spiritual and political homeland and that a renewed commitment to that identity is necessary if India is to salvage itself from regional, sectarian, and caste divisions. As with Protestant and Islamic fundamentalisms, Hindutva includes massive gatherings where people meet on open ground to share an enclave worship experience. Unlike the Protestant fundamentalist paradigm, Hindutva always has been paired with an explicit political purpose, and for a ten year period (1988–1998) mass campaigns and electoral victories brought Hindu revivalist leaders to media attention worldwide.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) form the organizational triumvirate of Hindu fundamentalism commonly known as the sangh parivar. Throughout RSS and BJP literature women are made analogous to Hindu goddesses, defined and celebrated as dutiful and self-sacrificing, the matri shakti. An example of how this played out in public politics is the expulsion of Uma Bharati (b. 1959) from the BJP in 2004. A high-profile member of parliament, Bharati was alleged to have had a romantic relationship with another BJP member. Media energy focused entirely on the quest for proof of Bharati's chastity rather than on the lasciviousness of the man with whom she had the affair. Thus, Bharati's involvement in politics and sangh parivar suggests the liberating options for women within Hindutva; however, women can participate only so long as they cohere to matri shakti. It is women, not men, who must be chaste and pure and who must, like the goddess Sita, go to great lengths to prove their purity.

Theravada Buddhism also has produced strands of religious nationalism with complex gender consequences. Uneven economic development, an authoritarian drift in governance, and the ascendance of a dharmishta society (a state of chauvinist justice premised on Buddhist principles) have combined to encourage militant groups with intensely nationalist foci in countries in southern Asia. In his analysis of Sri Lankan fundamentalist culture, Donald Swearer (b. 1934) explains the theological shift that has occurred: "In the classical tradition, Buddhist values informed the traditional Sinhalese culture through the retelling of moral legends and fables … in Buddhist fundamentalism, the subtleties and nuanced variations are lost" (Marty and Appleby 1991, p. 649).

A matter of particular dispute in Sri Lanka is whether women can commit to monastic orders, whether they can be fully ordained Bhikkhuni. In the Theravada tradition many believe that this monastic lineage became extinct in the eleventh century. Although other countries have reopened such female orders, the success of Buddhist fundamentalism in Sri Lanka has led to an affirmation of that extinction and an exclusion of women from institutional Buddhist involvement. Buddhist fundamentalisms therefore mirror other global fundamentalisms in their homogenization of a movement to a core scholastic interpretation around which a separatist identity can be designated.

If the Buddhist and Hindu examples are so well assimilated into preexistent fundamentalist theory, new definitions of religion may have to emerge to explain how those previously inchoate movements achieve nearly monotheistic clarity in response to the multiple economic, political, and social transitions of the modern period.

see also Buddhism; Hinduism; Islam; Judaism; Protestantism.


Almond, Gabriel A.; R. Scott Appleby; and Emmanuel Sivan. 2003. Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Antes, Peter. 2000. "Fundamentalism: A Western Term with Consequences." In Perspectives on Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, eds. Armin Geertz and Russell T. McCutcheon. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.

Brink, Judy, and Joan Mencher, eds. 1997. Mixed Blessings: Gender and Religious Fundamentalism Cross Culturally. New York: Routledge.

Griffith, R. Marie. 1997. God's Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hadden, Jeffrey, and Anson Shupe, eds. 1989. Secularization and Fundamentalism Reconsidered. New York: Paragon House.

Harding, Susan Friend. 2000. The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hawley Stratton. 1994. Fundamentalism and Gender. New York: Oxford University Press.

House Bill 185 (The Butler Act). Public Acts of Tennessee for 1925.

Lawrence, Bruce B. 1989. Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt against the Modern Age. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Marsden, George. 1980. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby. 1991. Fundamentalisms Observed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby. 1994. Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nason-Clark, Nancy. 1995. "Conservative Protestants and Violence against Women." In Religion and the Social Order: Sex, Lies and Sanctity, eds. Marion S. Goldman and M. J. Neitz. Greenwich, CT: JAI.

Smith, Jonathan Z. 1996. "A Matter of Class: Taxonomies of Religion." Harvard Theological Review 89(4): 387-403.

                                                  Kathryn Lofton


views updated



Fundamentalism originally referred to an American Protestant movement occurring at the turn of the twentieth century. It emerged from an interdenominational revivalist movement led by the evangelist preacher Dwight Moody (18371899). In the early part of the twentieth century, fundamentalism came to stand for opposition to certain trends in modern society, including the rise of liberal theology, sciences challenge to religious beliefs, and increasing secularization of society in general.

In the early twenty-first century, scholars have referred to a worldwide fundamentalist movement that includes various faith traditions. This more recent use of the term fundamentalism shows its usefulness for capturing the form and functions of a great many religious groups and their agendas. As used by scholars, the term is meant to describe, not evaluate.

At the heart of fundamentalist movements, then, is their revolt against modernism and their call to return to the basic beliefs and practices of their original community and, most importantly, to the basic beliefs found in sacred texts such as the Bible and the Quran. Scholars composite pictures of fundamentalist groups often represent them as energetic, sometimes aggressive, and, contrary to current stereotypes, only occasionally violent.

Fundamentalists feel that certain developments associated with modernism undermine religious identity and their own religious worldview. They believe these developments undermine the ability to lead a morally pure life and, in some cases, a life that prepares for the afterlife. Their concern is not with developments in technology and science per se but only with those developments that challenge their religious worldview and/or have moral implicationsas when Darwinian evolutionary theory spawned social Darwinism with its counter-Christian ethic of survival of the fittest. As this example of social Darwinism indicates, fundamentalists complaints about modernism are not altogether different from the complaints of many non-fundamentalists.

In North America, the term fundamentalism has often been used interchangeably with the term evangelical, although more so at the beginning of the fundamentalist movement than in the twenty-first century. Evangelical refers to the winning or saving of souls. To evangelize, then, means to lead others to becoming saved. North American fundamentalists are all about being saved and saving others: saved by believing in Jesus as the Lord and saved by accepting the Bible as the inerrant word of God.

For fundamentalists, being saved involves more than attending church or trying hard to lead a good life. Being saved, say the fundamentalists and evangelicals, entails no less than a total commitment to Christ and a total belief in the Bible. To be a North American, Protestant fundamentalist is, then, to embrace a biblical perspective that is clear, free from contradiction, and rejecting of alternative, non-fundamentalist worldviews. Being ecumenical is not, then, a part of the fundamentalist agenda. Therefore, North American Protestant fundamentalism, like other forms of fundamentalism around the world, runs counter to the dominant worldview in most societies today, a worldview that values pluralism and accepts there being multiple perspectives on what is true and valuable.

Nor is it a fundamentalist agenda to promote a separation of religion and state, a separation that has been central in North American and European democratic traditions. This is even more evident in Arab regions of the world where Islamic fundamentalism works to unite societies under Islamic law and under Islamic religious leadership.

Worldwide fundamentalism has been, then, both separatist and integrationist in spirit and political life. That is, while fundamentalists speak of the need to separate ones self from the unsaved and from this sinful or corrupt world they also speak of the need for humankind to become a single, religious community.

Fundamentalism is not simply about returning to a distant past or living in the present according to truths and prescriptions revealed in the distant past. It is also about working and waiting for an imagined future. In North American Christian fundamentalism, the imagined future is the Second Coming of Christ or Parousia, a time when sinners (non-believers) will be judged and the Kingdom of God will be established.

This theme of there being a cataclysmic future event or time when sinners will be judged and the righteous and true believers will prevail is not just a theme in North American Protestant Christian fundamentalism. It is also a theme in non-Christian, non-Western fundamentalist movements. All fundamentalist movements uphold the general theme that todays secular, pluralistic society will be replaced by a mono-religious society.

Non-fundamentalists often negatively stereotype fundamentalists. For example, fundamentalists are often pictured as being less educated on average, more authoritarian and dogmatic, anti-science, militant, and narrow-mindedly literal in their reading of sacred texts such as the Bible. However, the results of responsible research have shown each of these stereotypes to be distortions of the truth. In fact, fundamentalists make up a diverse group with respect to education, personality traits, and views about science and militancy. Furthermore, fundamentalists generally acknowledge the need to reflect and interpret when reading the sacred text. For fundamentalists, in general, discerning the revealed truth in the sacred text does not require taking each word, phrase, sentence, or portion literally.

Fundamentalism has and will continue to appeal to large segments of societies, especially in troubled times and in times of rapid transition. Its greatest appeal is in its offering clarity where there is doubt, order and continuity where there is disorder and discontinuity, and hope for being good and being saved where there is despair over being sinful and being lost. Fundamentalism appeals to a significant and diverse group for its providing a worldview and way of interpreting life that provides meaning, guidance, and personal satisfaction.

Despite these positive attributes, fundamentalism will likely continue to be rejected by the majority and for several reasons. First, its appeal to return to previous ways runs counter to the majoritys desire to develop new ways that reflect new conditions in modern life. Second, its appeal to adopt an uncompromising perspective, one that does not value alternative faith traditions and alternative worldviews, runs counter to the majoritys desire to value cultural and religious diversity so as to live harmoniously in a pluralistic society. Third, its appeal to believe in the inerrant, revealed truth of sacred texts runs counter to the philosophical and scientific ways of thinking that pervade modern academic and political institutions.

SEE ALSO Christianity; Islam, Shia and Sunni


Hood, Ralph W., Peter C. Hill, and Paul Williamson. 2005. The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism. New York: Guilford Press.

Marsden, George M. 1980. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism 18701925. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby, eds. 19911995. The Fundamentalism Project. 5 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Williamson, W. P. 2002. Another Look at Fundamentalism: A New Model. Psychology of Religion Newsletter: American Psychological Association 36: 113.

W. George Scarlett


views updated


The term fundamentalism generally describes a religious attitude or organized movement that adheres to most or all of the following characteristics: a holistic approach to religion, one that sees religion as a complete moral or legal code, providing answers for all life's questions; a tendency toward literal understanding of scriptures; a belief in a foundational golden age, when the principles of the faith were perfectly applied, and a desire to recreate such a period today; suspicion and sometimes renunciation of not only people of other faiths, but also supposedly hypocritical adherents of the same faith; and discomfort with or rejection of many aspects of modern, secular societies. The term was coined in the early twentieth century to refer to a Protestant movement in the United States that reasserted a literal reading of the Bible in opposition to the new biblical criticism and to such scientific theories as evolution, which had gained currency at the time. Because of its Christian origins, many scholars and religious activists reject its use in other religious contexts. The term is particularly controversial in the Islamic context, where, it is argued, "Islamic fundamentalism" is used indiscriminately to describe all Islamic activists, whether they are radicals or moderates, and because it is generally laden with pejorative meanings, such as obscurantism, dogmatism, sexism, and violence. Many alternatives have been suggested, including "Islamic revivalism," "political Islam," or simply "Islamism." These terms, however, have the drawback of not allowing comparative treatment of a phenomenon common to many religious traditions. Namely, from the 1970s to the present there has been an increased social mobilization and political activism on the basis of religion. Moreover, by equating fundamentalism with political Islam, the alternatives discount another ideological strand that has played an important role in Islamic revivalism, namely, Islamic modernism. So, for the lack of a satisfactory alternative, "Islamic fundamentalism" has been widely adopted in both scholarly and general parlance.

Islamic fundamentalism is found today, in varying degrees of strength and popular support, in every Muslim-majority country and in many countries with large Muslim minorities. Although they do not form a monolithic movement, fundamentalists do share certain common features in both their ideology and their organization. The similarities derive from the fact that most contemporary Islamic fundamentalist groups trace their origins to two organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab countries and the Jama˓at-e Islami in the Indian subcontinent. Both emerged during the 1930s and 1940s as responses to the problems confronting Muslims under British imperialism and to the perceived conformism of secular or modernist Muslim elites to European ideas and institutions. Thus, twentieth-century Islamic fundamentalism is in many ways a modern phenomenon, a product of both foreign and indigenous influences. Yet, it is also the latest manifestation of a long tradition of reform and revival movements within Islamic culture. Fundamentalist ideologues often quote the Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) to provide a classical sanction for their ideas. Similarly, Hanbali influences are evident in the Wahhabi fundamentalist movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, which had a profound, conservative impact, not only in the Middle East but also in India and Africa. A more direct forerunner of contemporary fundamentalism was the Salafiyya movement led by Jamal al-Din Afghani, Muhammad ˓Abduh, and Rashid Rida in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The more liberal spirit of Afghani and ˓Abduh animated Islamic modernism, while the more conservative approach of Rida hints at the conservative backlash against modernism that moved Hasan al-Banna˒ to found the Muslim Brotherhood and Abu l-A˓la˒ Maududi to create the Jama˓ate Islami.

Both the Brotherhood and the Jama˓at were organized by local chapters, into which members were initiated only after they had been tested for their conviction, piety, and obedience. The local cells answered to a central coordinating committee. The head of the organization was the murshid (guide) or emir (leader), who was assisted by the majlis alshura, an advisory council of senior members. Thus, the organization putatively mirrored the structure of the early Prophetic community in Medina, but it also resembled the Sufi orders whose quietism the fundamentalists rejected.

The ideology of the Jama˓at was elaborated primarily through the prolific writings of Maududi. Al-Banna's writings are more limited because of his early death. Sayyid Qutb would become the chief ideologue of the Brotherhood and because of Maududi's influence upon him, the main conduit for propagating Maududi's ideas in the Arab world.

The fundamentalist worldview is premised on the idea that most societies, including nominally Muslim societies, are in a state of jahiliyya, or "ignorance," akin to the jahiliyya that prevailed in Arabia before the advent of the prophet Muhammad's mission. Only a small, committed vanguard of true Muslims discern the corrupted state of Muslim affairs and the proper means to remedy it. Their initial mission is to withdraw mentally and even physically, if need be, from the jahiliyya in order to inculcate truly Islamic values within themselves and their organization. This hijra, or "flight," is the first type of jihad that they must wage. On the instructions of the leader, the Muslim vanguard must transform their inner jihad into an outer jihad aimed at overthrowing the un-Islamic order and correcting societal ills. The details of an authentic Islamic political system are left vaguely defined in most fundamentalist writings. The basic principle of such an order, however, is declared to be hakimiyyat Allah, or the "sovereignty of God." This requires the application of divine law, or shari˓a, in all its dimensions. The fundamentalists generally do not feel bound to any one school or to the entire corpus of classical jurisprudence that defined shari˓a. They feel empowered to perform ijtihad, that is, to derive law themselves through their own reading of the Qur˒an and sunna. Compared to the modernists, who also claim the right to ijtihad, the fundamentalist reading of scriptural sources is far more literal and conservative.

Both Qutb and Maududi castigated those Muslims who renounced forceful means in the jihad to establish an Islamic order. Qutb was executed for his views and the Muslim Brotherhood after his death officially renounced revolutionary violence against the Egyptian state. The Jama˓at under Maududi was always a loyal opposition party within Pakistani politics. During the late 1970s, inspired in part by the Islamic revolution in Iran, splinter groups consisting of a younger generation of activists broke off from the two older parties to form new, much more violent groups. One of these groups, Islamic Jihad, assassinated Anwar Sadat in October 1981. Other spin-offs are at the forefront of violent struggles in such diverse parts of the Muslim world as Algeria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Indonesia. It should be noted, though, that one of the most widespread and important fundamentalist organizations, the Tablighi Jama˓at, is not only nonviolent in its tactics, it generally eschews politics altogether.

Shi˓ite fundamentalism differs from Sunni fundamentalism in a few particulars, mainly in the greater millenarian emphasis that results from Shi˓ite expectations of the return of the Hidden Imam, the greater emphasis upon shahada, or "martyrdom" in jihad, and the theory of the direct rule of the Shi˓ite religious scholars as enunciated by Ruhollah Khomeini in the doctrine of velayat-e faqih. Yet, in most other ideological aspects and in organization, Shi˓ite fundamentalist groups can hardly be distinguished from Sunni groups. Greater interaction and mutual influences are evident, for example, in the upsurge in suicide attacks by Sunni groups, a tactic pioneered by the Shi˓ite Hizb Allah in Lebanon.

See also˓Abduh, Muhammad ; Afghani, Jamal al-Din ; Banna, Hasan al- ; Ghazali, Muhammad al- ; Ghazali, Zaynab al- ; Ibn Taymiyya ; Ikhwan al-Muslimin ; Jama˓at-e Islami ; Khomeini, Ruhollah ; Maududi, Abu l-A˓la˒ ; Political Islam ; Qutb, Sayyid ; Rida, Rashid ; Salafiyya ; Tablighi Jama˓at ; Velayat-e Faqih ; Wahhabiyya .


Choueiri, Youssef M. Islamic Fundamentalism. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Euben, Roxanne L. Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Marty, Martin E., and Appleby, R. Scott, eds. Fundamentalism Project. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Roy, Olivier. The Failure of Political Islam. Translated by Carol Volk. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Sivan, Emmanuel. Radical Islam. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985.

Sohail H. Hashmi


views updated


FUNDAMENTALISM is a movement within U.S. Protestantism marked by twin commitments to revivalistic evangelism and to militant defense of traditional Protestant doctrines. By the end of World War I, a loose coalition of conservative Protestants had coalesced into a movement united in defending its evangelistic and missionary endeavors against theological, scientific, and philosophical "modernism." The threatened doctrines had recently been identified in a collaborative twelve-volume series entitled The Fundamentals (1910–1915). Battles over issues—most frequently biblical inerrancy (exemption from error), the virgin birth of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and miracles—soon erupted within several leading denominations, principally among northern Baptists and Presbyterians. Many members separated from their churches to form new denominations committed to defending the fundamentals. Fundamentalists took their campaign into public education, where such organizations as the Anti-Evolution League lobbied state legislatures to prohibit the teaching of evolution in public schools. The former Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan led this effort, which culminated in his prosecution of the Dayton, Tennessee, teacher John T. Scopes, for teaching evolution. The Scopes trial of 1925 attracted national attention, and the ridicule of Bryan's views during the trial by the defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow, helped to discredit fundamentalism.

Over the next three decades the Fundamentalists' twin commitments to evangelism and doctrinal purity produced a flurry of activity that escaped much public notice but laid the groundwork for a resurgence in the late 1970s. Evangelists and missionaries began supplementing earlier revival methods with radio programs. Thousands of independent churches formed, many loosely linked in such umbrella organizations as the Independent Fundamental Churches of America. These churches sent missionaries abroad through independent mission boards. Bible colleges and seminaries trained the missionaries. Internecine squabbles (differences from within) over doctrine marked this period. The dispensational premillennialism outlined in the Scofield Reference Bible began to take on the status of another fundamental. Others formalized a doctrine of separation from the world's corruption.

Such developments prompted some leaders to forge a new evangelical movement that differed little from fundamentalism in doctrine but sought broader ecclesiastical alliances and new social and intellectual engagement with the modern world. By the late 1960s a set of institutions supported a movement centered in Baptist splinter groups and independent churches. Listener-supported Christian FM radio stations began proliferating across the country. Evangelists began television ministries. This burgeoning network reached an audience far broader than the fundamentalist core, allowing Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals to identify a set of concerns that drew them together.

By the early 1970s, Fundamentalists came to believe that an array of social, judicial, and political forces threatened their beliefs. They began battling this "secular humanism" on several fronts, advocating restoration of prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools and swelling the ranks of the prolife movement after Roe v. Wade (1973). In the late 1970s Fundamentalists within the Southern Baptist Convention mounted a struggle, ultimately successful, for control of the denomination's seminaries and missions. At the same time, the fundamentalist Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell mobilized a conservative religious coalition that promoted moral reform by supporting conservative candidates for public office. Many political analysts credited Ronald Reagan's presidential victory in 1980 to the support of Falwell's Moral Majority.

Falwell disbanded his organization in 1988, but activists continued to exert influence into the mid-1990s. Journalists and students tended to label this post-Falwell coalition as "fundamentalist" and applied the term to antimodernist movements within other religions. Sharp differences, however, continued to distinguish Fundamentalists from Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Indeed, Fundamentalists themselves remained divided—separationists denounced efforts to form common cause with other religious groups, and political moderates criticized alliances of groups such as the Christian Coalition with the Republican party.

The minister, broadcaster, and one-time presidential candidate Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition in 1989 to promote traditional Christian values in American life. The group won a smashing victory in 1994 when it helped elect enough Republican congresspeople to give that party its first majority in both houses of Congress in four decades. Some of the measures it proposed became part of the Republicans' Contract with America program. The "contract" called for efforts to end federal aid to the arts and humanities, restore school prayer, restrict abortion, limit pornography, and provide tax breaks for parents who send their children to private or religious schools. It also called for a "Personal Responsibility Act" to limit benefits to welfare recipients who bore children out of wedlock. Few of these measures ever made it into law. However, the Christian Coalition's political clout became abundantly clear when President Bill Clinton decided to sign a welfare reform bill called the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act" in 1996.

The late 1990s brought new challenges to the political arm of American Fundamentalism. The Christian Coalition's dynamic director, Ralph Reed, left the organization in 1996 to become a political consultant. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 shifted political discourse away from domestic and moral issues, which had been the Christian Coalition's strong suit, toward domestic security, military intelligence, and foreign relations. In the days after the attacks, Rev. Jerry Falwell attributed the attack on New York City to God's displeasure with homosexuals, abortionists, pagans, and civil libertarians (he later apologized for the comment). Several months later the Christian Coalition's founder, Pat Robertson, resigned from the organization. As a sign of the changed political environment facing Fundamentalists, Ralph Reed joined American Jews in pressuring the government to step up its military support for the beleaguered state of Israel.

At the start of the twenty-first century, Fundamentalists remained caught between the impulse to reform modernity and the impulse to reject and withdraw from it altogether. In some ways, the emergence of a religious marketing among a vast network of Christian publishers and television and radio stations catered to both impulses. A series of novels by Rev. Tim LaHaye depicting the Second Coming of Christ, which sold tens of millions of copies, revealed a deep understanding of a modern world even as it prophesied its destruction. The Fundamentalist movement in America continued to display great resourcefulness in adapting modern communications technology to defend its fundamentals against the modern world's ideas.


Ammerman, Nancy T. Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987.

Armstrong, Karen. The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism. New York: Knopf, 2000.

Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby, eds. Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Watson, Justin. The Christian Coalition: Dreams of Restoration, Demands for Recognition. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Timothy D.Hall/a. r.

See alsoBaptist Churches ; Evangelicalism and Revivalism ; Millennialism ; Pentecostal Churches ; Presbyterianism ; Protestantism ; Pro-Life Movement ; Religion and Religious Affiliation ; Scopes Trial ; Televangelism ; Terrorism .


views updated


Two sets of complex ways by which contemporary people look at reality coexist and often clash. The code word most frequently used for one set of views is fundamentalism. The other is referred to as science, as in "the scientific worldview." Science has developed over many centuries and has taken different forms since at least ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. At its heart are notions such as these: Scientists must be able to observe cause and effect, and they must be able to replicate experiments to test their validity. Such notions have to do with methods and serve mainly practical purposes.

It happens, however, that many scientists and science theorists become so engrossed in the method and its many positive results that they see it as an all-purpose explanation of the world. Anything that cannot be subjected to the cause-and-effect approach is suspect. Almost inevitably, habits of attention to science become preoccupying. More than a few devotees of the scientific worldview come to regard it as exclusive. Any alternatives that challenge it have to be refuted or repudiated.

The term fundamentalism was first applied to Protestants in the United States in the 1920s, but it now represents a set of phenomena that can be observed in most cultures where religion has influence and especially in cultures where religion dominates. Fundamentalism is almost always associated with religion, but some scholars also see it as an outlook on life that can characterize the non-religious as well. In fact, some theological scholars claim that those who are devoted without question to the scientific worldview sometimes approach it as uncritically as most scientists see religious fundamentalists defending their worldviews.

If the word fundamentalism was coined in the twentieth century, it must have been needed to describe a new reality. By common consent, the word points to phenomena different from what is suggested by the related words conservatism, traditionalism, or orthodoxy. The difference lies chiefly in the fact that fundamentalism is reactive. Its defenders "fight back" against what they feel might undercut or assault what they believe. Such fundamentalism is especially present in the "religions of the book": Christianity, Islam, and, to a lesser extent, Judaism. Fundamentalism is present in other forms in Buddhism and Hinduism, but the lines between religion and science are drawn differently in these traditions.

Religions of the book also speak of cause and effect. In their case, the cause is philosophy's "First Cause," which translates into "God." The means of producing effect is the revelation of God through prophets, events, and a sacred book. It is difficult for devotees of the book to subject it to experiment. How does one "replicate" the creation of the world or the presence of prophets who profess to speak about realities that are not testable in the laboratory? How does one "repeat" events that belong to faith, such as the resurrection of a God-Man or a journey into the heavens by a prophet Muhammad on his horse?

Ordinarily people can live with the two world-views, which do not always have to be seen as competing. Religion can address some aspects of life and science can address others. But fundamentalists have great difficulty picturing how the two worldviews can coexist in the same mind and the same culture. To fundamentalists, one world-view must be right and the other wrong. One is of God and the other is anti-God, perhaps of Satan.

Fundamentalists react or fight back against threats to their communities, traditions, and ways of life. Usually the term for what they attack is modernization and all that goes with it. Fundamentalism took shape in countering the assaults of what modernity brings. Not to fight back is to play into the hands of God's enemy and to see the possible destruction of all that one believes.

Technology provides the most profound impact of modernization among citizens around the globe and in all the religions. Technology might include mass communication, rapid means of travel, highly developed weaponry, and the like. With it may come social arrangements that disrupt community. In the modern world, guided by technology, people migrate and spread alien ideas in traditional cultures. While many adapt, fundamentalists say their adherents dare not.

Paradoxically, however, most fundamentalists are very comfortable with technology. Jewish fundamentalists in Gush Emunim in Israel have highly proficient weapons and systems of communication. The modern revolutionary Islamic movements, from that of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in the 1970s to the al-Qaeda terrorists in Wahhabi Islam at the beginning of the twenty-first century, have exploited technologies from tape recordings to the Internet. In the United States, Christian fundamentalist broadcasters are much more effective in the use of technical media than are their nonfundamentalist competitors.

What has happened? Is there, in fact, compatibility between two worldviews that were opposed root and branch? As one studies Islamic and Christian fundamentalisms, it becomes clear that the leaders are able to separate the practical instruments of technology from the scientific theories and experiments that made them possible.

This does not mean that all fundamentalists oppose all science. Many are, in fact, experts in hard sciences. The largely fundamentalist American movement called creation science includes people with Doctor of Philosophy degrees, often in the hard sciences where "facts" are determinative. They might accept but one miracle: That their book is the utterance of God. From there on, they will draw "facts" from the sacred book and approach those facts the way they would approach species in biology.

Islamic and other non-Western fundamentalists aim their reactionary efforts against the West, which is the source of so much science and the philosophy of science. The West is seen as the intrusive agent that has exported science and made the non-West dependent upon its hated alternative. And the science that comes from the West tends to arrive with trappings, which may include scientists and technicians who ignore or have disdain for religion. In a world that is gradually being dominated by technology, whether in medicine, opinion formation, or weaponry, the fundamentalist rejection of science is seen as dangerous among moderate coreligionists or people of secular mentality.

Cultures dominated by fundamentalism may eventually be able to overcome suspicion and retrieve from their heritage the variety of approaches that helped them lead in science, as was the case with medieval Islam. Until then, it will remain necessary for regimes dominated by fundamentalists to borrow some coveted features of scientific development, such as modern medicine. Whether such regimes can remain players on the global scene and serve their constituents without developing their own scientific research traditions is a fateful question both for fundamentalist-ruled nations and those who experience the dangerous expressions of their reaction.

See also Christianity, Evangelical, Issues in Science and Religion; Creationism; Creation Science


antoun, richard t. understanding fundamentalism: christian, islamic, and jewish movements. walnut creek, calif.: altamira, 2001.

bassam tibi. "the worldview of sunni arab fundamentalists: attitudes toward modern science and technology." in fundamentalisms and society: reclaiming the sciences, the family, and education, ed. martin e. marty and r. scott appleby. chicago: university of chicago press, 1993.

farhang rajaee. "islam and modernity: the reconstruction of an alternativbe shi'ite islamic worldview in iran." in fundamentalisms and society: reclaiming the sciences, the family, and education, ed. martin e. marty and r. scott appleby. chicago: university of chicago press, 1993.

james moore. "the creationist cosmos of protestant fundamentalism." in fundamentalisms and society: reclaiming the sciences, the family, and education, ed. martin e. marty and r. scott appleby. chicago: university of chicago press, 1993.

lindberg, david c., and numbers, ronald l., eds. god and nature: historical essays on the encounter between christianity and science. berkeley: university of california press, 1986.

mendelsohn, everett. "religious fundamentalism and the sciences." in fundamentalisms and society: reclaiming the sciences, the family, and education, ed. martin e. marty and r. scott appleby. chicago: university of chicago press, 1993.

moore, james. the post-darwinian controversies: a study of the protestant struggle to come to terms with darwin in great britain and america, 1870-1900. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1991.

martin e. marty


views updated


An interdenominational movement that originated in American Protestantism toward the end of the 19th century. It was a reaction against the liberal and modernistic currents of theology that infiltrated the seminaries and universities, especially in the Northern and Eastern parts of the United States. Drawing its strength principally from the rural areas and small towns of the "Bible belt" (the South and Midwest), old-fashioned evangelical faith found expression in various gatherings, notably in annual Bible conferences, at which the so-called "higher criticism" of the Bible was deplored. The Niagara Bible Conference of 1878 drew up 14 "fundamentals of the faith," which were later reduced to five: (1) the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible; (2) the virgin birth and full deity of Christ; (3) Christ's death as a sacrifice to satisfy the divine justice; (4) Christ's bodily resurrection; and (5) Christ's return in bodily form to preside at the Last Judgment. In some lists the miracles of Christ in his public ministry took the place of his second coming as the fifth fundamental.

Origin and Development. In Los Angeles, California, two brothers, Milton and Lyman Stewart, promoted the movement by founding in 1908 the Los Angeles Bible Institute and establishing the Stewart Evangelistic fund to promote their conservative views. With their financial support a series of 12 small volumes, titled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, were published between 1910 and 1915. The Stewarts mailed some three million copies of these books free of charge to pastors, missionaries, theology students, and church workers. These booklets, containing 90 articles by scholars from Europe and North America, defended the inspiration and total inerrancy of the Bible, opposed the "higher criticism," and attacked evolutionism and the "social gospel." Contrary to scientific biblical scholarship, they asserted that the Pentateuch (except Dt 34) was written by Moses himself.

The movement took another step forward in 1919, with the founding of the World's Christian Fundamentals Association, which published a quarterly review and conducted annual rallies in various North American cities during the next decade. About 1920 the title "Fundamentalist" first came into currency, signifying, as one newspaper expressed it, one who does "battle royal for the Fundamentals." This title was accepted by the adherents as a badge of honor. "Creation science," based on a strict interpretation of genesis, was promoted as an alternative to Darwinism.

During the 1920s many American Protestant churches, especially those with strong evangelical tendencies such as the Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and Disciples of Christbecame split into Fundamentalist and Modernist camps, with an amorphous group caught in the middle. The Lutherans and Episcopalians felt the controversy

less acutely, being more securely rooted in their confessional traditions.

Although Fundamentalism was primarily the fruit of simplistic popular thinking, it acquired intellectual respectability through the support of several distinguished theologians. Benjamin B. Warfield of Princeton Theological Seminary, perhaps the most eminent of America's conservative Presbyterian scholars, contributed to the first volume of The Fundamentals. John Gresham Machen, also of Princeton, while preferring to call himself simply a Calvinist, likewise supported the Fundamentalist cause.

Decline. Largely through Fundamentalist pressures, several state legislatures barred the teaching of evolution in public schools. In 1925 John T. Scopes, a high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tenn., was accused of teaching Darwinism in violation of the law. Behind the immediate question of evolution loomed the larger question whether the Bible was totally free of error in its obvious meaning, as understood by the ordinary reader. Although Scopes was convicted and the constitutionality of the statute upheld, William Jennings Bryan's feeble performance as a witness for the prosecution and the unfavorable publicity given to the case in the secular press resulted in a major setback for Fundamentalism.

In the mid-1920s the Fundamentalist tide began to recede. In 1927 Princeton Seminary, the traditional bastion of conservative orthodoxy, opened itself to other theological tendencies. In 1929 Machen resigned his post to found a new conservative seminary in Philadelphia, and ultimately (in 1936) his own Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Although Fundamentalism lost much of its influence, important Protestant groups, especially in the Netherlands and the U.S., remain strongly committed to the view that the Bible, understood in its obvious literal meaning, is totally inerrant. The more sophisticated representatives of conservative Evangelicalism, such as Carl F. H. Henry and Edward J. Carnell, sought to shed the Fundamentalist label and to identify themselves with international conservative Protestant bodies, such as the World Evangelical Fellowship. But the Fundamentalist mentality continues to manifest itself in some parts of the United States. In 1981, for example, the State of Arkansas adopted a law requiring that "creation science" be taught alongside of evolutionary theory in public schools. That law was later ruled unconstitutional.

Catholic Responses. Fundamentalism properly so called can have no legitimate place in Catholic theology. Already in the 17th century the Catholic bishop J. B. Bossuet controverted the view of the Calvinist Pierre Jurieu that a few "fundamental articles" could be a sufficient test of orthodoxy. In his encyclical Mortalium animos (1928) Pius XI rejected the distinction between fundamental and nonfundamental articles. The "five fundamentals," while true if rightly understood, do not mention all that Catholics consider basic to their faith. The omission of the Trinity, the Church, and the sacraments gives a markedly sectarian slant to the Fundamentalist platform.

Certain anti-Modernist trends in Catholic theology ran parallel to Protestant Fundamentalism. Catholics regarded by some as ultraconservative opposed the scientific study of the Scriptures and sought to defend every sentence of the Bible in what they took to be its obvious sense. They rejected the idea of human evolution as unbiblical and repudiated the practice of distinguishing between different "literary forms" in books deemed to be historical. Pius XII in his encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu (1943), correcting these tendencies, endorsed scientific literary and historical criticism and a prudent use of the method of form criticism. In 1993 the Pontifical Biblical Commission issued a document on The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, which included a severe criticism of Fundamentalism for offering false certitudes and for confusing the divine substance of the Bible with what are in fact its human limitations. The United States Catholic Bishops' Conference in 1987 established an ad hoc committee on Biblical Fundamentalism that warned against the deceptive attractions of Fundamentalism, calling attention to its tendency to neglect the role of the Church in the transmission of Christian faith.

Bibliography: g. m. marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York 1980); Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1991). t. m. o'meara, Fundamentalism: A Catholic Perspective (New York 1990). pontifical biblical commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Vatican City 1993). united states bishops' committee, "Pastoral Statement for Catholics on Biblical Fundamentalism," Origins 17 (Nov. 5, 1987) 37677. h. a harris, Fundamentalism and Evangelicals (Oxford 1998).

[a. dulles]


views updated

Fundamentalism. In general, a description of those who return to what they believe to be the fundamental truths and practices of a religion. It can thus be applied to this attitude in all religions (e.g. the resurgence of conservative Islam is sometimes called ‘Islamic fundamentalism’). But this use is often resented by such people, because of its more usual identification with those, in Christianity, who defend the Bible against charges that it contains any kind of error. More specifically, it denotes the view of Protestant Christians opposed to the historical and theological implications of critical study of the Bible.

To avoid overtones of closed-mindedness, Christians in the Fundamentalist tradition often prefer to be called Conservative Evangelicals.

The word (Arab. equivalents are salafiyya and uṣūliyya) is used of Muslims, when it refers to those who assert the literal truth of the Qurʾān and the validity of its legal and ritual commandments for modern people.


views updated

fundamentalism Movement within some Protestant denominations, particularly in the USA, which originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a reaction against biblical criticism and contemporary theories of evolution. The name is derived from The Fundamentals, a series of 12 tracts published in 1909–15 by eminent US evangelical leaders. The doctrines most emphasized are the inspiration and infallible truth of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, atonement by Christ bringing expiation and salvation for all, the physical resurrection and the second coming. Fundamentalism has been loosely used to refer to any extreme orthodox element within a religion.


views updated

fun·da·men·tal·ism / ˌfəndəˈmentlˌizəm/ • n. a form of Protestant Christianity that upholds belief in the strict and literal interpretation of the Bible, including its narratives, doctrines, prophecies, and moral laws. ∎  strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology, notably Islam.DERIVATIVES: fun·da·men·tal·ist n. & adj.