Fundamentalism has come to mean any form of religious extremism.
Its origins were much more specific, however, and the term did
not always carry such negative connotations.
you hear the word 'fundamentalism' today, invariably it is prefixed
by the adjectives 'religious' or 'Islamic'. 'Islamic fundamentalism'
has been blamed for terrorist attacks on the West; the Government
of India has repeatedly been accused of being 'Hindu fundamentalist';
and books on 'Jewish fundamentalism' have been published.
speaking, the word fundamentalist has its origins in the Christian
millennielist movement, born in the 19th century in the United
States, when Protestant evangelists preached of the Second Coming
of Christ, or the thousand years of the Kingdom of Christ. The
name 'fundamentalism' itself first appeared in the early part
of the 20th century, based on a series of the Movement's publications
entitled 'The Fundamentals'. For the Fundamentalists, there were
five foundations of the faith: the literal and infallible nature
of the Scriptures, the virgin birth, atonement through good works,
corporal resurrection and the authenticity of the miracles. Sparked
in part by Charles Darwin´s ideas,
which directly contradicted the literal interpretations of the
Bible's book of Genesis, Fundamentalism was institutionalized
in 1919-1920. It had strong support and followers among the upper
echelons of society and government, and was militant in its reaction
to both secular and religious modernization. The Movement also
opposed the atheism of the anarchist, socialist and communist
thinkers and trade unionists of the day. The Movement still has
a strong presence today in several church organizations, educational
institutions and groups specializing in spreading the faith -evangelizing
religions with some 30 million followers in the US alone.
and the State
the early 20th century, several Islamic movements arose in reaction
to the modernization and Westernization of their culture and
in resistance to colonialism. The preaching of the return to
the splendor and power of Islamic civilization was intermixed
with the conviction that its decline had been caused by the neglect
of traditional customs. In the minority is the reformist or 'evolutionist'
trend, known as salafiyya, which believes that the sharia
should be adapted according to contemporary reality through the
effort of interpretation or ijtihad. The majority conservative
or 'fundamentalist' trend advocates the return to Islam's roots
and rejects the interpretation of the sharia, asserting
it should be applied in its literal sense.
Muslim groups favor the creation of an Islamic state, though
they disagree both about the structure of such a state and what
strategies should be used to achieve it. There are those that
advocate violence and believe, furthermore, that the sharia
must be imposed from the pinnacle of power, over all society.
There are others who believe it is necessary to wait for society
to turn gradually to Islam. Some groups are open to political
dialogue, others reject any compromise with the regimes of their
A double-edged reaction to secularization is evident within the
Jewish religion. The foundation of the Israeli state was based
on a secular ideology, Zionism, which was born in the 19th century
and consolidated in the 1896 book by Theodor Herzl, The Jewish
State. In addition to advocating a state for the Jews, Zionism
sought to culturally assimilate them with the European 'gentiles'
do not participate in the Jewish faith). In Israel as well as in the
Jewish communities of the Diaspora, there are nationalist-religious
groups and there are those who consider the state of Israel a
new Diaspora - if not an occupation -, and they preach tranquility,
given that the 'true' land of Israel will be granted with the
coming of the Messiah. Alongside the Old Testament Commandments,
the Talmud is the sacred code from which a large portion
of fundamentalist Jews take the rules that govern their lives.
There is no question that, while some of these groups from the
three religions of Abraham proclaim the literal truth of the
sacred texts, this literalness is also governed by interpretation.
The interpretations are the different translations produced by
broke off from Catholicism claiming the right to free interpretation), and those
of the mullahs who claim the literal truth of the Qur'an, translations
of which are not granted any authority. Although there are some
literalists within Jewish fundamentalism, there are also those
who have sought an alternative meaning for these texts to justify
the colonization of Palestine.
While the applicability of the term 'fundamentalism' to Islamic
and Jewish movements has been questioned repeatedly, it has come
under greater doubt in its relevance to the movements that promote
the revival and nationalization of the Brahmanic religions in
India. In the first place, the Vedas (the sacred texts) are not canonized by any authority.
The texts themselves encourage interpretation or the search for
broader meanings. This has favored the development of Brahmanic
cults of different extremes. From the perspective of this 'Hindu'
diversity, one could even see Christianity, Islam and Judaism
as sects of a single religion.
an attempt to define a phenomenon that has similar traits in
different parts of the world, in the broad sense, the term fundamentalism
could be a modern form of politicized religion in which the 'true
believers' fight the marginalization of the religion within its
respective societies. All variants share a resistance, if not
outright hostility, to secularization and seek to restructure
social and cultural relations and institutions according to the
faith's traditional norms and precepts. Some seek to fight secularism
through the schools, the press or academia, others do so within
the political arena, and still others abandon conventional politics
and legal institutions, turning to violence and religious war. There are
those who draw a line between 'restorers of the faith' and 'fundamentalists'.
The first would be devout but apolitical, and would not aim to
force others to convert. The latter would be those who intend
to change the behavior of both those who share their faith and
those who do not. In this sense, genuine 'fundamentalism' would
have to be understood as being both religious and political,
with adherents believing that circumstances require them to act
in order to meet their religious obligations.
as a parameter of religious-political thought and conduct applicable
to different cultures, and not as a specific set of religious
beliefs, rituals or practices, fundamentalism can be found in
all historic religions that have sacred scriptures and basic
precepts. Fundamentalists, in this sense, are militant conservatives
for whom the world is a battlefield between absolute good and
absolute evil. They are warriors in spirit, and often in flesh,
who oppose non-believers and doubters within their own religious
communities. No matter what their origins, the different fundamentalisms
may be considered united in their rejection of the replacement
of divinity and divine law by human reason and by secular political
principles as the basis for social and legal order. While this
substitution occurred in the West -not without violence- based on
Western ideas, in other regions, such as in the Muslim world,
it occurred through colonization and the Empire. For example,
Islamists believe that the foreigners and infidels converted
their Muslim brothers, sisters and children to 'atheist' customs.
Fundamentalists are also united in considering their respective
religions superior to the rest and in their rejection of pluralism.
In their eyes, as messengers of the light or of revelation, they
are obliged to take on a 'cosmic battle' against evil. There
are some analysts who believe that the framework for this battle
is globalization. According to this view, globalization (which to a great extent
implies the exaltation of Western secular values) carries with
it the seeds of reaction against the global process of secularization,
a fight for a 're-sacralization', which in many cases takes fundamentalist
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