The term 'fundamentalism' came out of the United States after World War I, to describe the views of evangelical Protestants, who objected to the emergence of less literal interpretations of biblical scripture.Today we often use the term 'fundamentalism', to refer to the approach which is 'aimed no longer at adapting to secular values but at recovering a sacred foundation for the organisation of society-by changing society if necessary' (Kepel 1994). Fundamentalism also at its core, 'is devotion to a belief system which is taken to be the only belief system' (Bouma 1992:60).
Simplistic World View
In general those with fundamentalist religious beliefs, are of the opinion that their understanding of the world is based on an essential truth. Also, most fundamentalists engage in behaviour aimed at converting others to their world view. However it is interesting, that psychological research by Leon Festinger, has demonstrated that proselytising by religious groups, is usually a 'desperate defence mechanism' (Slater, 2004, p117); when there is a disconnect between what one believes and the factual evidence. The only way to calm this feeling of cognitive dissonance is to convert others.
Christian fundamentalism became prominent in the 1970's and as with most types of fundamentalism, can be viewed as a reaction to the 60's era of protest, hippie's and sexual freedom. In the 21st century, fundamentalism is again on the rise, sparked by many factors including: gender and gay equality, and increasing secularisation.
Christian fundamentalists generally believe in the inerrant truth of the Bible, that they can be 'born again' by accepting Christ as their saviour, that Christ will return to earth (End Times) and they also believe in the virgin birth and trinity (Simpson 1992).
Christian fundamentalists are engaged in the fight to make theirs the dominant cultural view, they want to ban abortion and homosexuality and they want traditional gender roles and prayers back in schools. They also want to prohibit evolution despite the fact that there is reams of evidence for evolution, across a variety of scientific disciplines. They wish to resurrect creationism instead.
IslÄmic fundamentalism is also essentially, a response by 'traditionally religious people to social, political and economic changes that downgrade the role of religion in public life' (Bruce 2000:117). In religious nations, there is no separation between church and state and yet like all religions, Islam is open to a variety of interpretations. For most Muslims shari'a (law) is not rigid, but open to adaption depending on context (Castells 1997:14). For fundamentalists however, there is generally an engagement in the fight against jahiliya, which is a state of being in ignorance of God's teachings (Castells 1997:15).
Islamic fundamentalism also generally became more fervent in the 1970s, with Iran leading the way. Today Western culture, with its gender equality, freedom of expression and thought, is considered to be a great threat to the dogma of Islam. This has resulted in many Muslin countries viewing the United states as the 'Great Satan'.
In general however, there are many problems with fundamentalist beliefs, as asserted by Clarence Darrow in the Scopes Monkey Trial. For example, religious claims cannot be proven, are often irrational, demonstrably false, or contrary to scientific evidence. Also, fundamentalists tend to be highly selective about which parts of their religious tradition they stress and groups are often led by dominant males. Fundamentalism also by its very nature, inhibits the growth and development of human knowledge about ourselves and our world and it is as a belief system, largely opposed to equality for women, gay people and those with different or no beliefs.
“Without the voice of reason, every faith is its own curse."
(History Will Teach Us Nothing)”
â Sting, Nothing Like the Sun