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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 against Modernist theology, primarily to promote continuity and accuracy.[1] The term "fundamentalism" was originally coined by its supporters to describe five specific classic theological beliefs of Christianity, and that developed into a movement within the Protestant community of the United States in the early part of the 20th century, and that had its roots in the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy of that time.[2]

The term usually has a religious connotation indicating unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs.[3] "Fundamentalism" is sometimes used as a pejorative term, particularly when combined with other epithets (as in the phrase "right-wing fundamentalists").[4][5]


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.[6]

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":[7]

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 refuse to participate in events with any group that does not share its essential doctrines. 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.[8]


The term Jewish fundamentalism may refer to[9] militant religious Zionism[10] or Ashkenazi or Sephardic Haredi Judaism.[10]

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"[11]


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.[12] Islamic fundamentalism has appeared in many countries;[13] the Wahhabi version is promoted worldwide and financed by Saudi Arabia.[14]

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.[15]


Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs,[16] thus the basic definition of fundamentalism cannot apply to Hinduism considering that it does not contain any fundamental thoughts to abide to.[original research?]

The allegations such as "A recent phenomenon in India has been the rise of Hindu fundamentalism that has led to political mobilization against Muslims. After eight years of agitation, Hindu fundamentalists destroyed the 450-year-old Babri Mosque in December 1992. The Shiv Sena is a political party founded in 1966 originally to express Hindu fundamentalism. It is allied with the nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party."[17] are considered mere speculation and are thought to be aimed at disrupting Hindu nationalist groups such as the Shiv Sena, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and others.[18]


While fundamentalism is not common in Buddhism, controversial movements have arose specifically in East Asian countries.

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.[19]


Some Christian theologians, some fundamentalists, and others 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[20][21][22] and said "Any kind of fundamentalism, be it Biblical, atheistic or Islamic, is dangerous".[23] 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."[24]

In The New Inquisition, Robert Anton Wilson, recognized episkopos, pope, and saint of the parody religion Discordianism, lampoons the members of skeptical organizations like the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP—now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) as fundamentalist materialists, alleging that they dogmatically dismiss any evidence that conflicts with materialism as hallucination or fraud.[25]

In France, the imposition of restrictions on some displays of religion in state-run schools has been labeled by some as "secular fundamentalism".[26][27] 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.[28]

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.[29] 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.


The term "atheistic fundamentalism" is controversial. 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."[21][22] He claimed it led to situations such as councils calling Christmas "Winterval", schools refusing to put on nativity plays and crosses removed from chapels, though others have disputed this.[30] Winterval was a name given to a whole series of winter festivals, and was not a renaming of Christmas.

In The Dawkins Delusion?, Christian theologian Alister McGrath and his wife, psychologist Joanna Collicutt McGrath, compare Richard Dawkins' "total dogmatic conviction of correctness" to "a religious fundamentalism which refuses to allow its ideas to be examined or challenged."[20]

Richard Dawkins has rejected the charge of "fundamentalism," arguing that critics mistake his "passion"—which he says may match that of evangelical Christians—for an inability to change his mind. Dawkins asserts that the atheists' position is not a fundamentalism that is unable to change its mind, but is held based on the verifiable evidence; as he puts it: "The true scientist, however passionately he may "believe" in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will."[31] Dawkins has stated that, unlike religious fundamentalists, he would willingly change his mind if new evidence challenged his current position.[31] Put another way, Dawkins states:

... Maybe scientists are fundamentalist when it comes to defining in some abstract way what is meant by "truth". But so is everybody else. I am no more fundamentalist when I say evolution is true than when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to dispute it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that ...[32]


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.[33]

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.[34]

A criticism of fundamentalism is the claim that fundamentalists are selective in what they believe. For instance, the Book of Genesis dictates that when a man's brother dies, he must marry his widowed sister-in-law.[35] Yet fundamentalist Christians do not adhere to this doctrine because there are laws considered addressed to the nation of Israel and specifically for that point in redemptive history. The following passage is where the law comes from and it relates to the Israelite not being blotted out.

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
Deuteronomy 25:5-7 (NIV)

However, according to New Testament theology, parts relating to sins, such as animal sacrifices (Exodus 29:36) and dietary concerns, are not normative for modern Christians; this is related to the view that Christ sanctified and fulfills the Law for the person.[36]

Sacrifice a bull each day as a sin offering to make atonement. Purify the altar by making atonement for it, and anoint it to consecrate it.
—NIV Exodus 29:36 (NIV)

Jesus is considered the fulfillment of the law.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Gospel of Matthew 5:17 (NIV)

They may also cite passages such as Colossians 2:13-23.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

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.[37]

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.

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".[38]”"

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have shown that fundamentalism is associated with low intelligence, with each 15-point increase in IQ making people about half as likely to have strong fundamentalist views.[39]

Many commentators in India also criticise the use of 'Hindu Fundamentalism' to describe Hindu Nationalists. They state that this is simply to downgrade the importance of political groups such as BJP and Shiv Sena from mounting an opposition to the ruling UPA Coalition and the Indian National Congress.


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.[40] 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.[41]

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

conservatism portal

Citations and footnotes


  • 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

  • The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family, book by Andrew Himes
  • Scripps Howard News Service
  • listen now)
  • Anthropoetics XV,2 Spring 2010
  • Shared Insights: Women's Rights Activists Define Religious Fundamentalisms
  • The Appeal-and Peril-of Fundamentalism by Dr. Bert B. Beach
  • not complete at 2011-07-26.
  • Online version of "The Fundamentals", not complete at 2011-07-26.
  • Thoughts on "Religious Fundamentalism" Identity
  • International Coalition Against Political Islam
  • Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
  • No to Political Islam
  • Psychological Issues of Former Members of Restrictive Religious Groups by Jim Moyers
  • Q & A on Islamic Fundamentalism
  • a conservative Christian website, maintained by Steve van Natten
  • Women Against Fundamentalism (UK)
  • The Rise of Religious Violence
  • Yahya Abdul Rahman's Take On Fundamentalists And Fundamentalism
  • Harvard University, November 7, 2007.
  • Athena Intelligence Journal
  • Fundamentalism linked to intimate partner violence
  • Evangelicalism – Fundamentalism; What Is The Difference?
  • Admiel Kosman, Between Orthodox Judaism and nihilism: Reflections on the recently published writings of the late Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, Haaretz, Aug.17, 2012.

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