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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

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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

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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 .

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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

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fundamentalism:1 In Protestantism, religious movement that arose among conservative members of various Protestant denominations early in the 20th cent., with the object of maintaining traditional interpretations of the Bible and of the doctrines of the Christian faith in the face of Darwinian evolution, secularism, and the emergence of liberal theology.

A group protesting "modernist" tendencies in the churches circulated a 12-volume publication called The Fundamentals (1909–12), in which five points of doctrine were set forth as fundamental: the Virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus, the infallibility of the Scriptures, the substitutional atonement, and the physical second coming of Christ. The debate between fundamentalists and modernists was most acute among the Baptists and the Presbyterians but also arose within other denominations. In a highly publicized case, the so-called Monkey Trial (1925), the fundamentalist leader William Jennings Bryan won Tennessee's case against J. T. Scopes, for teaching evolution in the public schools (see Scopes trial). Other attempts, however, by fundamentalists in the 1920s to rid the churches of modernism and the schools of evolution failed.

By the 1930s many fundamentalists began to withdraw into independent churches and splinter denominations, and fundamentalism became identified in the public mind with anti-intellectualism and extremism. Many fundamentalists rejected this image, and a movement was begun in the late 1940s to present their position in both a more scholarly and popular way. This movement, known as neoevangelicalism (or, more simply, evangelicalism), sought a wider following from the major denominations through its various schools, youth programs, publications, and radio broadcasts. The separatists saw these efforts as compromising fundamentalist views and sought to disassociate themselves from these religious institutions and such well-known evangelical fundamentalists as Billy Graham.

Since the late 1970s fundamentalists have embraced electoral and legislative politics and the "electronic church" in their fight against perceived threats to traditional religious values: so-called secular humanism, Communism, feminism, legalized abortion, homosexuality, and the ban on school prayer. They have continued to oppose the teaching of evolution in the schools or have sought to have creationism or intelligent design taught as well. In recent years some fundamentalists have also attacked the teaching of scientific theories on the origins of the universe (see cosmology). Those Americans who describe themselves as fundamentalists (approximately 25% of the U.S. population) have become a political bloc in their own right. During the 1980s they made up a large portion of the new Christian right that helped put Ronald Reagan into the White House, and early in the 21st cent. they aided significantly in the election of George W. Bush to the presidency. The Moral Majority, founded by the fundamentalist Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell in 1979, was the most visible example of this new trend in the 1980s; the most prominent current group is the Christian Coalition, headed by Pat Robertson. Moderate fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals continue to forge new alliances, for example in the Southern Baptist Convention, to wield political and denominational control.

See N. Furniss, The Fundamentalist Controversy, 1918–1931 (1954, repr. 1963); L. Gasper, The Fundamentalist Movement, 1930–1956 (1963); E. R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism (1970); M. Ellingsen, The Evangelical Movement (1988); W. H. Capps, The New Religious Right (1990); J. B. Flippen, Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right (2011).

2 In other religions. In Islam, the term "fundamentalism" encompasses various modern Muslim leaders, groups, and movements opposed to secularization in Islam and Islamic countries and seeking to reassert traditional beliefs and practices. After the Shiite revolution (1979) led by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the term was applied to a number of ultra-conservative or militant Islamic movements there and in other countries, such as the Taliban of Afghanistan. There are both Shiite and Sunni fundamentalist leaders and groups, such as the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Muslim Brotherhood. The term has also been applied to Hindu nationalist groups in India (see Hinduism; Bharatiya Janata party).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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fundamentalism (religious)

fundamentalism (religious) A movement or belief calling for a return to the basic texts or ‘fundamentals’ of revealed religion–usually contrasted, therefore, with modernism and liberalism in religion. The term has been applied to Protestant trends within Christianity, since the 1920s, and recently to trends within Islam. Despite its theological character it is usually linked to projects of social reform and the acquisition of political power.

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fundamentalism a form of Protestant Christianity which upholds belief in the strict and literal interpretation of the Bible, including its narratives, doctrines, prophecies, and moral laws. Also, strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology, notably Islam.

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