Fundamentalism Essay

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Fundamentalism is a label that refers to the modern tendency to claim the unerring nature of a sacred text and to deduce from that a rational strategy for social action. The final goal is to achieve the utopia of a regime of the Truth, gain political power and rebuild organic solidarity. Many scholars hold the view that this is a modern global phenomenon involving the historic religions, for the most part. There are five common features characterizing fundamentalist movements, according to Marty and Appleby’s research.

First of all, the type of social action dominated by the attitude of fighting back. The social actors claim to be restoring a mythical and sacred order of the past in contrast to the modern idea of atomized individuals in a fragmented society. The second element – fighting for – is implicit in the foregoing: the ultimate goal of the movement is political, despite the furious and intense religious motivations. The third feature – fight with – refers to a specific repository of symbolic resources of use in the crusade for restoring identity and gaining political power. They actually interpret the text, whilst pretending to claim its inerrancy, its a-historicity, and generally, its structural refractoriness to any rational hermeneutics. The fourth element is the fight against. There is a link between the fundamentalist mentality and the need for an enemy. The fifth feature – fight under God – refers to the intensity of the militants’ conviction that they are ”on the right path”. They are certain they are called directly by a god to carry on with radical determination the struggle against the enemy. Thus, the symbolic and physical violence are legitimized.

The social scientists who accept the notion of fundamentalism in a comparative and global approach are divided whether the phenomenon should be interpreted as the quintessence of modernity or as a simple reaction to it. In a first approach, fundamentalism is a clear reaction to modernity, against the individualization of belief and socio-religious identity. The second orientation argues that fundamentalism is a direct consequence of modernity; using the advantages of modernity (i.e. the modern means of communication). A third approach stresses the relation between fundamentalism and secularization: the former witnesses the countertendency to gradual eclipse of the sacred.


  • Marty, M. E. and Appleby S. R. (eds.) (1995) Fundamentalism Comprehended. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

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