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  • Created by: Lilly
  • Created on: 11-05-14 17:09

Fundamentalism and it's origins

= the growth of fundamentalism represents a culture war- a clash between the sacred & secular.

Global context, issue of reg fundamentalism has emerged as major area of media and political concern in recent decades, notably in relation to international islamist terroism. However, term has been applied to followers of other religions including protestant christians.


  • 1st appeared in 1880s in USA (basically dispute between caths and prots)
  • At the time, liberal protestants attempted to adapt their views to the modern world, while conservative protestants opposed this.
  • Conservative protestants believed bible must be understood literally and write a set of pamphlets called 'fundamentals'
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Features of fundamentalism


  • Traditionalists who seek to return to basics/ fundamentals of their faith
  • Believe unquestionally in the literal and infallible truth of scripture and that it provides answers to al life's important questions from politics to family life.
  • Believe theirs is the only true view of the world. Intolerant and refuse to engage in dialogue with  others, and they justify their views by reference to dogma and sacred texts rather than rational arguement.
  • Tend to avoid contact with others who think differently. Rely upon guardians of tradition, such as clergy/ elders, to interpret the sacred text and lay down rules that determine their lifesyles.
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Characteristics of fundamentalism

Religious texts seen as perfect

  • As such must be read literally. Consequence of this is that they reject religious pluraism (reject an other type of religion or interpretation of their own religion.) This has an important impact on what schools teach- for example creationism in American schools.

Profound rejection of modern society

  • Mod society is seen as morally corrupt. Living in the modern world is seen as problematic because of the variety of choice. Fundamentalists reject whole idea of choice and assert the value of tradition.

Activism is strongly encouraged

  • Fundamentalists are vocal in their struggle of good against evil. Media images offten focus on funamentalists protesting against modernity.
  • Activism- doing something to change society.
  • EG- Saudi Arabia, School teacher imprisoned for naming bear 'Muhamed'
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Characteristics cont.

Reinforces nationalism

  • Often appeal to deep seated fears of 'strangers'

Have political agenda

  • Absolute opposition to homosexuals, abortion and birth control.
  • Extremem teaching on these topics, links to fundamentalism- Heath Ledger's funeral.
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Causes of fundamentalism

Religious resurgence has been a response to the rapid social change and disruption resulting from modernisation and globalisation.

There are 2 main theories of religious resurgence:

1- as a defensive reaction (to invasion, immigration), may provide:

  • retreat into a religious haven
  • certainty based on essential 'truths' about life
  • resistance identities (veiling)
  • cultural defense- seeking solace in regligion in face of hostility from others in society

2- as a proactive response (to solve a problem) , may provide:

  • strict morality, support for family
  • guide to self-empowerment and recipe for upward mobility
  • support for the famil
  • positive, non-western identiy
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Causes of fundamentalism


  • Main cause is 'the belief of religious traditionalists that the world around them has chnaged so as to threaten their ability to reproduce themselves and their traditions].'
  • Some religins have more potential for radicalism, particularly those with single sacres texts, this ideological cohesion makes it much easier to mobolise people.
  • Fundamentalist beleifs are stronger in groups who feel they have common external enemy- Islamic funamentalist groups united in hostility to US and allies.
  • Way in which belief systems are controlled within a religion. Caths is centralised in Rome, but Islam and and protestantism isn;t this permits radical clerics to influence believers
  • neds supply a optential recruits, particualrly those who are young, unemployed or poor.
  • Path of fundamentalism takes is affected by relation to politics.
  • orthodoxy- being religious through holding the correct beliefs (christianity)
  • orthopraxis- being religious through ones actions.
  • emphasis on power&action along with lack of democratic involvement- more likely that islamic fundamentalists will turn to violence. Theoretical revew of fundamentlist religions, views strongly influenced by his support for secularization and his view that Islamic fundamentlism is more likely to be violent is very controversial.
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Almod et al

  • Argue that fundamentalism can be understood on 3 levels:

1- structural level- concerned with long term contextual conditions (unemployment, war, persecuted ethnic groups or dislocated people and social changes)- misery can cause reg groups to mobolise

2- contingency and chance - although structural events as described above do have impact, fundamentlist activity also depends on which specific historical events have occured

3- Human choice and leadership- mean that fundamentalism will not develop without reglious leaders who can mobolise large numbers of people in support of their religious groups.

  • Nature of reg organisations also important, ones where individual congregations have some independence are more likely to develop break-away groups, inclduing fundamental ones.
  • Research method- review of major comparative study of fundamentlaist reg throughout world, 75 case studies carried out over 20 yr period, interviews in middle east, North africa and US. Dynamic research in that allows us to apply wider social factors to spread of funamentaism.
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Growth of fundamentalism


  • Term is relatively new one, he sees its growth as product of and reaction to globalisation, which undermines traditional social norms concerning nuclear family, gender and sexuality.
  • Today's late modern society, individuals are constantly faced with choice, uncertainty and risk.
  • Attraction of fundamentalisma nd its rigid, dogmatic beliefs is the certainty that it promises in an uncertain world. It is a retreat into faith-based answers and away from the globalising world that demands rational reasons.
  • However, whilst they detest modernity, they use modern methods to express and spread their beliefs (TV, internet, email, teleevangelism and electronic church) He identifies fundamntlist versions of several major religions including islam, christianity and hinduism.
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Responses to postmodernity


  • Sees fundamentlism as response to living in postmodernity. Postmod soc brings freedom of choice, uncertainty and heightended awareness of risk, underminning the old certainties about how to live that were grounded in tradition.
  • In this situation, while some embrace the new freedoms, others are attracted to fundamentlism by its claims of absolute truth and uncertainty.


  • Distinguishes between 2 responses to postmodernity: resistant identity (defensive reaction of those who feel threatened and retreat into fundamentalist communities) and project indentity (response of those who are forward looking and engage with social movements such as feminism and environemntalism)
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Criticises Giddens, Bauman and Castells on several grounds:

  • distinguish too sharply between cosmopolitanism and fundamentlism, ignoring 'hybrid' movements
  • Are 'fixated on fundamentalism' ignoring other important developments including how globalisation is also affecting non-fundamentlist relgions (cath)
  • Giddens lumps all trypes of fundamentlism as defensive action to modernity ignores the fact that reinventing tradition is also a modern 'reflexive' activity
  • Hayes (1998) - we should not focus on idea that islamic fundamentlism is a reaction against globalisation. EG middle east conflicts caused by failure of local elites to deliver their promises to improve standard of living are often fuel that drives fundamentalism.
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Fundamentalist reactions


While all fundamentalists share same characteristics such as belief in literal truth of the sacred text adn detestation of modernity, different fundamentalist movements may have different origins.

  • WEST- most often reaction to change taking place within soc, especially the trends towards diversity and choice typical of late modernity.
  • THIRD WORLD- usually reaction to changes being thrust upon society from outside, as in case of the islamic revolution in Iran, triggered by modernisation and globalisation in which western values are imposed by foregin capitalism.
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