Examples of fundamentalism include Amish groups, some Islamist sub-groups, and Christian fundamentalism. There are also political fundamentalists such as Christian nationalists in the USA and neoliberal market fundamentalists.
The term has both positive and negative connotations in different contexts. In fact, many groups openly and proudly claim the moniker. The following information presents a non-judgemental and objective overview of the concept of fundamentalism, with an acknowledgment that there are sub-groups within all religions who self-identify as fundamentalists.
Fundamentalism was first used in Christian Protestant circles in the 20th century.
Originally, it was restricted to debates within evangelical Protestantism. However, it is now employed to refer to any person or group that is unbending, rigorous, and strictly literal in their religious or political views.
The term fundamentalism is used to refer to the application of a strictly literal interpretation of scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies and a strong belief in the importance of distinguishing one’s ingroup from the outgroup (Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1992).
The term began as a positive self-description by the American Protestants.
It was first used in 1920 by Curtis Lee Laws in the Baptist journal Watchman-Examiner. According to him, fundamentalists were those who fight for the fundamentals of the faith.
He was referring to a series of 12 pamphlets, published between 1915-1920, that treated particular Christian doctrines and tried to defend them against modernism and liberalism.
These doctrines included the inerrancy or literal truth of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the reality of miracles, and many more.
The term, however, is no longer restricted to religious matters.
Today the term fundamentalism is often applied, depending on the speaker, to nationalist groups, environmentalist groups, feminist groups, communist groups, and so on (Nagata, 2001).
Examples of Fundamentalism
1. Christian fundamentalism: Christian fundamentalism, a movement in some sectors of American Protestantism, arose in the late 19th century in reaction to theological modernism, and represents groups who believe in literal interpretation of all parts of the Bible.
2. Eco-fundamentalists: The term “eco-fundamentalism” was introduced to refer to the aspects of the contemporary environmentalist movement which have parallels to religious fundamentalism (Lal, 1995).
3. Ultranationalists: The term fundamentalism is often applied to nationalist groups based on similarities in rhetoric (Ruthven, 2007, p. 93). Other characteristics like militarism or intolerance may also be cited to show parallels between nationalism and fundamentalism.
4. The Amish: The term fundamentalism is often used to characterize the Amish due to their strict adherence to biblical texts.
5. Islamists: Many scholars prefer to use the term “Islamist” to “Islamic fundamentalist,” but the latter term is still commonly used to refer to groups who have a strict literal interpretation of Islamic texts.
6. Sikh fundamentalists: Sikh fundamentalism was a nationalistic separatist movement that emphasized orthodox beliefs and stressed the need to conform to a sacred text (the Adi Granth).
7. Buddhist fundamentalists: Examples of Buddhist fundamentalism can be found in each of the three main branches of Buddhism.
8. Philosophical fundamentalism: The term fundamentalist has been used pejoratively to refer to philosophies perceived as literal-minded or carrying a pretense of being the sole source of objective truth. Examples include “atheistic fundamentalism,” “secular fundamentalism,” “feminist fundamentalism,” and so on.
9. Market fundamentalism: The term “market fundamentalism” typically refers to a strong belief in the ability of unregulated laissez-faire or free-market capitalist policies to solve most economic and social problems. It is most commonly used as a pejorative.
10. Constitutional literalists: Constitutional literalists in the United States are often considered to have fundamentalist attitudes to the US constitution.
11. Rama Hindus: The followers of Rama within Hinduism at times self-identify as fundamentalists.
12. Parts of Hindutva movement: Some members of the Hindutva movement, a nationalist, right-wing, extremely conservative movement in India, self-identify as fundamentalists.
13. Some Arms of Religious Zionism: It is contested whether Zionism is fundamentalist, and self-identification with this term depends upon the group. As with all religions, Judaism is a very diverse religion with diverse groups, some of whom self-identify as fundamentalists.
14. Ashkenazim and the Sephardim: Some parts of the ultra-Orthodoxy of the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim, in the latter case represented by the Shas political party in Israel, sometimes self-identify as fundamentalists.
15. Ultra-libertarianism: Some ultra-libertarians are extremely literal and unwavering in their philosophical belief in individual sovereignty to the extent of rejecting the concepts of government, police forces, and taxation.
1. Christian Fundamentalism
Christian fundamentalism was a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the late 19th century in reaction to theological modernism.
Theological modernism aimed to revise traditional Christian beliefs to accommodate new developments in the sciences, especially the theory of evolution.
Fundamentalists vehemently opposed this development. They affirmed the historical accuracy and inerrancy of the Bible, the imminent Second Coming of Jesus Christ, Christ’s virgin birth, the reality of miracles, the Resurrection, Atonement, and many other traditional Christian beliefs.
The issue of biblical authority was crucial to American Protestants because they had inherited the doctrine of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) from Martin Luther and other 16th-century Protestant reformers. Any challenge to scriptural integrity was dismissed by American Protestants.
The theologians at the Princeton Theological Seminary argued for the word-for-word inspiration of Scripture and claimed that the Bible was both infallible when it spoke of faith and ethics and inerrant when it spoke of any matters, including science and history.
Christian fundamentalists are distinguished from other Christians because they select certain positions and elevate them to absolutes.
This fundamentalism is a subcategory of evangelical Christianity.
2. Hindu Fundamentalism
Hindu fundamentalism in India has more to do with nationalism than religion.
Hinduism does not have a specific sacred text to which conformity can be demanded, meaning Hinduism is an extremely diverse group. Like all religions, there are both fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists within them.
For Hindu fundamentalists, Hinduism is often more of a symbol of national, rather than religious, identity. This is in part because there is no one central sacred text, unlike the Abrahamic religions.
3. Islamic Fundamentalism
The term “Islamic fundamentalism” has been common in both popular and scholarly literature since the 20th century.
Islamic fundamentalists believe in the literal and inerrant interpretation of the Quran and are committed to the idea of a state and society based on Islamic religious law.
The specific character of Islamic fundamentalist movements varies greatly.
What distinguishes them from other Muslims, however, is their insistence on conformity to a code of conduct based on a literal interpretation of sacred scripture. They often also believe that religion and politics cannot be separated.
4. Market Fundamentalism
In politics, the term “fundamentalism” is most commonly applied as a pejorative to strict adherents of laissez-faire capitalism by their critics.
Free-market fundamentalists believe in the ability of unregulated markets to solve most economic and social issues.
This concept was widely used in the 1990s during the height of neoliberal reforms that led to mass deregulation and privatization of Western economies following the writings of neoliberal economists such as Milton Freeman.
The term fundamentalism was first used in Christian Protestant circles in the 20th century.
As a more widely applied term, fundamentalism is now used to refer to a tendency among certain groups and individuals that is characterized by the application of a strictly literal interpretation of scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies and a strong belief in the importance of distinguishing one’s ingroup from the outgroup (Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1992).
The term, however, is no longer restricted to religious matters. Today it is applied, depending on the context, to political and ideological groups as well as religious ones.
Fundamentalism is embraced by some and rejected by others – whether it is a good or bad term is often in the eye of the beholder.
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Altemeyer, B., & Hunsberger, B. (1992). Authoritarianism, Religious Fundamentalism, Quest, and Prejudice. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2(2), 113–133. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327582ijpr0202_5
Boer, R. (2005). Fundamentalism. In Bennett, T. & Grossberg, L. & Morris, M. & Williams, R. New keywords: a revised vocabulary of culture and society. Blackwell Publishing.
Lal, D. (1995). Eco-Fundamentalism. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), 71(3), 515–528. https://doi.org/10.2307/2624838
Nagata, J. (2001). Beyond Theology: Toward an Anthropology of “Fundamentalism.” American Anthropologist, 103(2), 481–498. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.2001.103.2.481
Ruthven, M. (2007). Fundamentalism and nationalism II. In M. Ruthven (Ed.), Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/actrade/9780199212705.003.0006