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The Rise of Fundamentalism

By Edited Jun 11, 2015 3 5

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).

Religious Fundamentalists

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).

Without Evidence

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.

Saudi Burqa

Islāmic 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)”
― Sting, Nothing Like the Sun


George Carlin



Jul 9, 2012 5:30pm
Although I would prefer to see all religions fail (because they are parasitic oppressors of free thinking, of rational thought, and of humanity) any religion unable to be flexible and grow with its current place in history is doomed.

Fundamentalism, by nature of its very rigidity, cannot survive, whereas more liberal religions such as Judaism and Catholicism (and certain other Protestant faiths) have managed to keep their religions relevant in these quickly changing times. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recognized this truism as well and has updated much of its doctrines to keep attracting adherents. Good work. A thumb.
Jul 9, 2012 5:44pm
Thanks for reading, we should always consider how we know what we know and what is the evidence.
Feb 11, 2013 6:04pm
Hi--Another insightful article! I can only view "fundamnetalism" of any kind as ignorance. It has been around in one form or another since the advent of so-called civilization and has left a trail of blood and suffering ever since. The very idea that suffering is the road to salvation is mere political corectness but a feast for the fundamentalist. 2 thumbs up and a rating. Good work!
Feb 12, 2013 12:39pm
Thank you for your response. I was looking for trouble writing this one! But it honestly amazes me, how people can believe such simple prescriptions will take them to a magic place and magic man in the sky. I suppose such responses are a way of blocking out and attempting to deal with, the complexity of the real world.
Mar 27, 2014 11:04am
Interesting view on fundamentalism! The original word 'fundamental' simply meant basic. Hence a fundamentalist would be someone who knew his fundamentals well. In everything else having sound fundamentals or good fundamental knowledge is encouraged and seen as a good thing but having good fundamentals on your faith is not perceived so...a paradox? An atheist can be said to be fundamentalist in his disbelief of God but then those are his fundamental beliefs. Hence, it may not be fundamentalism itself that is the problem but the conclusions it is brought to that create problems. We cannot avoid people having different religions but for religious harmony to exist the beliefs must not be taken to ugly conclusions!
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  1. Holmes, Hughes, julian "Religion and Spirituality." Australian Sociology, A Changing Society. 2011.
  2. Wikipedia "Fundamentalism." .. ..
  3. FUNDAMENTALISM INDEX "SPECIFIC INSIGHTS FROM THE FUNDAMENTALISM PROJECT." http://www.brucegourley.com/fundamentalism/index2.htm. ..

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