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For other uses, see Fundamentalism (disambiguation).

Fundamentalism is the demand for a strict adherence to orthodox theological doctrines, usually understood as a reaction to Modernist theology.[1] The term was originally coined by its supporters to describe five specific classic theological beliefs of Christianity, and that developed into a Christian fundamentalist movement within the Protestant community of the United States in the early part of the 20th century.[2]

The term usually has a religious connotation indicating unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs,[3] but fundamentalism has come to be applied to a broad tendency among certain groups, mainly, although not exclusively, in religion. This tendency is most often characterized by a markedly strict literalism as applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions[4] [5] [6] [7] , which can lead to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which it is believed that members have begun to stray. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.[8]

Fundamentalism is sometimes used as a pejorative term, particularly when combined with other epithets (as in the phrase "right-wing fundamentalists").[9][10]


See also: Evangelicalism

Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the United States, starting among conservative Presbyterian theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 19th century. It soon spread to conservatives among the Baptists and other denominations around 1910 to 1920. The movement's purpose was to reaffirm key theological tenets and defend them against the challenges of liberal theology and higher criticism.[11]

The term "fundamentalism" has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897), which defined those tenets it considered fundamental to Christian belief. The term was popularized by the The Fundamentals, a collection of twelve books on five subjects published in 1910 and funded by the brothers Milton and Lyman Stewart. This series of essays came to be representative of the "Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy", which appeared late in the 19th century within some Protestant denominations in the United States, and continued in earnest through the 1920s. The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which distilled these into what became known as the "five fundamentals":[12]

By the late 1910s, theological conservatives rallying around the Five Fundamentals came to be known as "fundamentalists". In practice, the first point regarding the Bible was the focus of most of the controversy.

Fundamentalist groups generally decline to participate in events with any group that does not share its essential doctrines. They reject the existence of commonalities with theologically related religious traditions. For instance, fundamentalist Christians are less likely to group Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as being in one Abrahamic family of religions.[13] In contrast, Evangelical groups, while they typically agree on the theology "fundamentals" as expressed in The Fundamentals, often are willing to participate in events with religious groups who do not hold to the essential doctrines.[14]


Main article: Jewish fundamentalism

The term Jewish fundamentalism may refer to[15] militant religious Zionism[16] or Ashkenazi or Sephardic Haredi Judaism.[16]

Ian S Lustik has stated that Jewish fundamentalism is aptly characterised as "an ultranationalist, eschatologically based, irredentist ideology", and Gush Emunim as the "dynamism that underlay the shift toward fundamentalism"[17]


The Shia and Sunni religious conflicts since the 7th century created an opening for radical ideologists, such as Ali Shariati (1933–77), to merge social revolution with Islamic fundamentalism, as exemplified by Iran in the 1970s.[18] Islamic fundamentalism has appeared in many countries;[19] the Wahhabi version is promoted worldwide and financed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan.[20][21]

The Iran hostage crisis of 1979–80 marked a major turning point in the use of the term "fundamentalism". The media, in an attempt to explain the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian Revolution to a Western audience described it as a "fundamentalist version of Islam" by way of analogy to the Christian fundamentalist movement in the U.S. Thus was born the term "Islamic fundamentalist", which would come to be one of the most common usages of the term in the following years.[22]


Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs,[23] thus the basic definition of fundamentalism cannot apply to Hinduism as a whole considering that it does not contain any fundamentals binding upon all Hindus. However scholars identify several politically active Hindu movements (including the RSS, BJP and VHP)as part of the "Hindu fundamentalist family."[24]

A recent phenomenon in India has been the rise of Hindu fundamentalism that has led to political mobilization against Muslims.[25][26][27]


In the most recent instances, Buddhist fundamentalism has also targeted other religious and ethnic groups, such as that in Burma. As a Buddhist dominated nation, Burma has seen recent tensions between Muslim minorities and the Buddhist majority, especially during the 2013 Burma anti-Muslim riots, allegedly instigated by hardliner groups such as the 969 Movement.[28]

There are historic and contemporary examples of Buddhist fundamentalism in each of the three main branches of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. In Japan, a prominent example has been the practice of shakubuku among some members of the Nichiren sect -- a method of proselytizing involving strident condemnation other sects as deficient or evil. Similarly, some members of the New Kadampa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and the Western Shugden Society have appropriated the controversial and fiercely sectarian protector deity Dorje Shugden as a symbol of maintaining the purity of the Gelugpa sect from contamination by teachings from other sects, condemning the Dalai Lama's eclectic approach (see Dorje Shugden controversy).[29]


Some pejoratively refer to any philosophy which they see as literal-minded or they believe carries a pretense of being the sole source of objective truth as fundamentalist, regardless of whether it is usually called a religion. For instance, the Archbishop of Wales has criticized "atheistic fundamentalism" broadly[30][31][32] and said "Any kind of fundamentalism, be it Biblical, atheistic or Islamic, is dangerous".[33] He also said, "the new fundamentalism of our age ... leads to the language of expulsion and exclusivity, of extremism and polarisation, and the claim that, because God is on our side, he is not on yours."[34]

In The New Inquisition, Robert Anton Wilson lampoons the members of skeptical organizations like the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal as fundamentalist materialists, alleging that they dogmatically dismiss any evidence that conflicts with materialism as hallucination or fraud.[35]

In France, the imposition of restrictions on some displays of religion in state-run schools has been labeled by some as "secular fundamentalism".[36][37] In the United States, private or cultural intolerance of women wearing the hijab (Islamic headcovering) and political activism by Muslims also has been labeled "secular fundamentalism" by some Muslims in the U.S.[38]

The term "fundamentalism" is sometimes applied to signify a counter-cultural fidelity to a principle or set of principles, as in the pejorative term "market fundamentalism" applied to an exaggerated religious-like faith in the ability of unfettered laissez-faire or free market economic views or policies to solve economic and social problems. According to economist John Quiggin, the standard features of "economic fundamentalist rhetoric" are "dogmatic" assertions and the claim that anyone who holds contrary views is not a real economist. Retired professor in religious studies Roderick Hindery first lists positive qualities attributed to political, economic, or other forms of cultural fundamentalism.[39] They include "vitality, enthusiasm, willingness to back up words with actions, and the avoidance of facile compromise." Then, negative aspects are analyzed, such as psychological attitudes, occasionally elitist and pessimistic perspectives, and in some cases literalism.


In December 2007, the Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan criticized what he referred to as "atheistic fundamentalism", claiming that it advocated that religion has no substance and "that faith has no value and is superstitious nonsense."[31][32] He claimed it led to situations such as councils calling Christmas "Winterval", schools refusing to put on nativity plays and crosses removed from chapels. Others have countered that some of these attacks on Christmas are urban myths, not all schools do nativity plays because they choose to perform other traditional plays like A Christmas Carol or the The Snow Queen and, because of rising tensions between various religions, opening up public spaces to alternate displays than the Nativity scene is an attempt to keep government religion neutral.[40]


Many criticisms of fundamentalist positions have been offered. One of the most common is that some claims made by a fundamentalist group cannot be proven, and are irrational, demonstrably false, or contrary to scientific evidence. For example, some of these criticisms were famously asserted by Clarence Darrow in the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Sociologist of religion Tex Sample asserts that it is a mistake to refer to a Muslim, Jewish, or Christian Fundamentalist. Rather, a fundamentalist's fundamentalism is their primary concern, over and above other denominational or faith considerations.[41]

A criticism by Elliot N. Dorff:

In order to carry out the fundamentalist program in practice, one would need a perfect understanding of the ancient language of the original text, if indeed the true text can be discerned from among variants. Furthermore, human beings are the ones who transmit this understanding between generations. Even if one wanted to follow the literal word of God, the need for people first to understand that word necessitates human interpretation. Through that process human fallibility is inextricably mixed into the very meaning of the divine word. As a result, it is impossible to follow the indisputable word of God; one can only achieve a human understanding of God's will.[42]

Howard Thurman was interviewed in the late 1970s for a BBC feature on religion. He told the interviewer:

I say that creeds, dogmas, and theologies are inventions of the mind. It is the nature of the mind to make sense out of experience, to reduce the conglomerates of experience to units of comprehension which we call principles, or ideologies, or concepts. Religious experience is dynamic, fluid, effervescent, yeasty. But the mind can't handle these so it has to imprison religious experience in some way, get it bottled up. Then, when the experience quiets down, the mind draws a bead on it and extracts concepts, notions, dogmas, so that religious experience can make sense to the mind. Meanwhile religious experience goes on experiencing, so that by the time I get my dogma stated so that I can think about it, the religious experience becomes an object of thought.[43]

Albert Camus opposed both Nazi fascism and Stalinist communism, leading to a split with Jean-Paul Sartre. In the Myth of Sisyphus he developed the concept of philosophical suicide. This is any ideological system or belief that claims to bridge the gap between man's yearning for absolute unity versus what he saw as the inherent irrational nature of the universe.[citation needed]

Influential criticisms of Fundamentalism include James Barr's books on Christian Fundamentalism and Bassam Tibi's analysis of Islamic Fundamentalism.

There are also some criticisms against the political usage of the term "fundamentalism". "Fundamentalism" has been often used by a political group to attack their political enemies. The term would be used flexibly depending on the political interests and context of the time. According to Judith Nagata, a professor of Asia Research Institute in the National University of Singapore, The Afghan mujahiddin, locked in combat with the Soviet enemy in the 1980s, could be praised as "freedom fighters" by their American backers at the time, while the present Taliban, viewed, among other things, as protectors of American enemy Osama bin Laden, are unequivocally "fundamentalist".[44]”"

A study at the University of Edinburgh has found that of its six measured dimensions of religiousity "lower intelligence is most associated with higher levels of fundamentalism."[45]


The Associated Press' AP Stylebook recommends that the term fundamentalist not be used for any group that does not apply the term to itself. A great many scholars have adopted a similar position.[46] A good many scholars, however, use the term in the broader descriptive sense to refer to various groups in various religious traditions including those groups that would object to being classified as fundamentalists. That is the way that the term is used in The Fundamentalism Project by Martin Marty, et al., from the University of Chicago.[47]

Christian fundamentalists, who generally consider the term to be pejorative when used to refer to themselves, often object to the placement of themselves and Islamist groups into a single category given that the fundamentals of Christianity are different from the fundamentals of Islam. They feel that characteristics based on the new definition are wrongly projected back onto Christian fundamentalists by their critics.

Many Muslims object to the use of the term when referring to Islamist groups, and oppose being placed in the same category as Christian fundamentalists, whom they see as theologically incomplete. Unlike Christian fundamentalist groups, Islamist groups do not use the term fundamentalist to refer to themselves. Shia groups which are often considered fundamentalist in the western world generally are not described that way in the Islamic world.

See also[edit]

Citations and footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ George M. Marsden, "Fundamentalism and American Culture", (1980)pp 4-5
  2. ^ Buescher, John. "A History of Fundamentalism", Teachinghistory.org. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
  3. ^ Nagata, Judith (Jun 2001). "Beyond Theology: Toward an Anthropology of "Fundamentalism"". American Anthropologist 103 (2). 
  4. ^ Altemeyer, B., & Hunsberger, B. (1992). Authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, quest, and prejudice. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2(2), 113-133. doi: 10.1207/s15327582ijpr0202_5
  5. ^ Kunst, J., Thomsen, L., Sam, D. (2014). Late Abrahamic reunion? Religious fundamentalism negatively predicts dual Abrahamic group categorization among Muslims and Christians. European Journal of Social Psychology, https://www.academia.edu/6436421/Late_Abrahamic_reunion_Religious_fundamentalism_negatively_predicts_dual_Abrahamic_group_categorization_among_Muslims_and_Christians
  6. ^ Kunst, J. R., & Thomsen, L. (2014). Prodigal sons: Dual Abrahamic categorization mediates the detrimental effects of religious fundamentalism on Christian-Muslim relations. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. doi: 10.1080/10508619.2014.93796 https://www.academia.edu/7455300/Prodigal_sons_Dual_Abrahamic_categorization_mediates_the_detrimental_effects_of_religious_fundamentalism_on_Christian-Muslim_relations
  7. ^ Hunsberger, B. (1995). Religion and prejudice: The role of religious fundamentalism, quest, and right-wing authoritarianism. Journal of Social Issues, 51(2), 113-129. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1995.tb01326.x
  8. ^ https://www.ntpu.edu.tw/social/upload/P_1020081127150648.pdf
  9. ^ Harris, Harriet (2008). Fundamentalism and Evangelicals. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-953253-2. OCLC 182663241. 
  10. ^ Boer, Roland (2005). "Fundamentalism" (PDF). In Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg, Meaghan Morris and Raymonnd Williams. New keywords: a revised vocabulary of culture and society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 134–137. ISBN 0-631-22568-4. OCLC 230674627 57357498. Retrieved July 27, 2008. 
  11. ^ Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (1992) pp 376-86
  12. ^ George M. Marsden, "Fundamentalism and American Culture", (1980) p. 117
  13. ^ Kunst, J., Thomsen, L., Sam, D. (2014). Late Abrahamic reunion? Religious fundamentalism negatively predicts dual Abrahamic group categorization among Muslims and Christians. European Journal of Social Psychology, https://www.academia.edu/6436421/Late_Abrahamic_reunion_Religious_fundamentalism_negatively_predicts_dual_Abrahamic_group_categorization_among_Muslims_and_Christians
  14. ^ Carpenter, Revive us Again (1997) p 200
  15. ^ Jewish fundamentalism (Encyclopædia Britannica)
  16. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica: Jewish fundamentalism in Israel
  17. ^ Ian S. Lustik. "Israel's Dangerous Fundamentalists". pp. 118–139. ISSN 0015-7228. Archived from the original on 2009-10-25. Retrieved November 4, 2013. "Foreign Policy Number 68 Fall 1987" 
  18. ^ William E. Griffith, "The Revival of Islamic Fundamentalism: The Case of Iran", International Security, June 1979, Vol. 4 Issue 1, pp 132-138 in JSTOR
  19. ^ Lawrence Davidson, Islamic Fundamentalism (Greenwood, 2003)
  20. ^ Natana DeLong-Bas, Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  21. ^ Qatar and Pakistan funding Wahhabi islam in favor of more tolerant versions of the islamic religion (ie Sufi, ...)
  22. ^ "Google News Search: Chart shows spikes in '79 (Iran hostage crisis), after 9/11 and in '92 and '93 (Algerian elections, PLO).". Retrieved December 9, 2008. 
  23. ^ Georgis, Faris (2010). Alone in Unity: Torments of an Iraqi God-Seeker in North America. Dorrance Publishing. p. 62. ISBN 1-4349-0951-4. Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  24. ^ Brekke (1991). Fundamentalism: Prophecy and Protest in an Age of Globalization. Cambridge University Press. p. 127. 
  25. ^ Ajay K. Mehra (2013). Emerging Trends in Indian Politics: The Fifteenth General Election. Routledge. p. 1. 
  26. ^ James Peoples; Garrick Bailey (2008). Cengage Advantage Books: Humanity: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Cengage Learning. p. 371. 
  27. ^ Brekke (1991). Fundamentalism: Prophecy and Protest in an Age of Globalization. Cambridge University Press. p. 127. 
  28. ^ KYAW ZWA MOE (March 30, 2013). "Root Out the Source of Meikhtila Unrest". Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  29. ^ http://info-buddhism.com/new_kadampa_tradition.html
  30. ^ Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), February 15, 2007, ISBN 978-0-281-05927-0
  31. ^ a b Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru | The Church in Wales
  32. ^ a b "'Atheistic fundamentalism' fears". BBC News. December 22, 2007. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  33. ^ "Archbishop of Wales fears the rise of "Atheistic Fundamentalism"". Archived from the original on 2007-12-27. Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  34. ^ "Atheistic fundamentalism" fears". BBC News. 22 December 2007. Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  35. ^ Pope Robert Anton Wilson, The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science. 1986. 240 pages. ISBN 1-56184-002-5
  36. ^ "Secular fundamentalism", International Herald Tribune, December 19, 2003
  37. ^ "Headscarf ban sparks new protests," BBC News, January 17, 2004
  38. ^ Ayesha Ahmad, "Muslim Activists Reject Secular Fundamentalism", originally published at IslamOnline, April 22, 1999. See also Minaret of Freedom 5th Annual Dinner, Edited Transcript, Minaret of Freedom Institute website.
  39. ^ Hindery, Roderick (2008). "Comparative Ethics, Ideologies, and Critical Thought"
  40. ^ Toynbee, Polly (December 21, 2007). "Sorry to disappoint, but it's nonsense to suggest we want to ban Christmas". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  41. ^ Tex Sample. Public Lecture, Faith and Reason Conference, San Antonio, TX. 2006.
  42. ^ Dorff, Elliot N. and Rosett, Arthur, A Living Tree; The Roots and Growth of Jewish Law, SUNY Press, 1988.
  43. ^ "An Interview With Howard Thurman and Ronald Eyre", Theology Today, Volume 38, Issue 2 (July 1981).
  44. ^ Nagata, Judith. 2001. Toward an Anthropology of "Fundamentalism." Toronto: Blackwell Publishing, p.9.
  45. ^ Gary J. Lewis, Stuart J. Ritchie, Timothy C. Bates (2011-09-03). "The relationship between intelligence and multiple domains of religious belief: Evidence from a large adult US sample". 
  46. ^ "Can anyone define 'fundamentalist'?", Terry Mattingly, Ventura County Star, May 12, 2011. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  47. ^ See, for example, Marty, M. and Appleby, R.S. eds. (1993). Fundamentalisms and the State: Remaking Polities, Economies, and Militance. John H. Garvey, Timur Kuran, and David C. Rapoport, associate editors, Vol 3, The Fundamentalism Project. University of Chicago Press.


  • Appleby, R. Scott, Gabriel Abraham Almond, and Emmanuel Sivan (2003). Strong Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-01497-5
  • Armstrong, Karen (2001). The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-39169-1
  • Brasher, Brenda E. (2001). The Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92244-5
  • Caplan, Lionel. (1987). "Studies in Religious Fundamentalism". London: The MacMillan Press Ltd.
  • Dorff, Elliot N. and Rosett, Arthur, A Living Tree; The Roots and Growth of Jewish Law, SUNY Press, 1988.
  • Keating, Karl (1988). Catholicism and Fundamentalism. San Francisco: Ignatius. ISBN 0-89870-177-5
  • Gorenberg, Gershom. (2000). The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. New York: The Free Press.
  • Hindery, Roderick. 2001. Indoctrination and Self-deception or Free and Critical Thought? Mellen Press: aspects of fundamentalism, pp. 69–74.
  • Lawrence, Bruce B. Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt against the Modern Age. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.
  • Marsden; George M. (1980). Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 Oxford University Press.
  • Marty, Martin E. and R. Scott Appleby (eds.). The Fundamentalism Project. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Noll, Mark A. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.
  • Ruthven, Malise (2005). "Fundamentalism: The Search for Meaning". Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280606-8
  • Torrey, R.A. (ed.). (1909). The Fundamentals. Los Angeles: The Bible Institute of Los Angeles (B.I.O.L.A. now Biola University). ISBN 0-8010-1264-3
  • "Religious movements: fundamentalist." In Goldstein, Norm (Ed.) (2003). The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 2003 (38th ed.), p. 218. New York: The Associated Press. ISBN 0-917360-22-2.

External links[edit]

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