Fundamentalism Sociology Religion Essay

Fundamentalism: Useful Essay on Fundamentalism!

The term ‘fundamentalism’ refers to adherence to earlier accepted religious doctrines and is often accompanied by a literal application of historical beliefs and scriptures to today’s world (Schaefer and Lamm, 1992). It is also defined as a movement or belief called for a return to the basic texts or ‘fundamentals’ of revealed religion. It encourages ‘fixed identities’ where ‘slippages are suppressed’ and ‘sameness is prized’.

It is commonly associated with the attempt to revive archaic modes of conduct and belief from the past. It is usually contrasted with modernism and liberalism in religion. It emphasizes the absolute truth of essential or ‘fundamental’ aspects of faith, especially those rooted in sacred texts such as the Christian Bible or the Islamic Koran or Vedas of Hindus.

The term has been applied to Protestant trends within Chris­tianity since the 1920s, recently in Hinduism after the demolition of Babri Masjid. These new trends in religion are sometimes termed as ‘resurgent fundamentalism’, meaning the revival of a conservative approach to religion.

Christian fundamentalism believes the Bible to be word of God, who is responsible for all creation. Although humanity has sinned and therefore fallen from grace, salvation from punishment has been made possibly by God’s mercy in sending a saviour—Jesus Christ.

Biblical religion introduced the conception of God as transcendent—as a ‘Thou’ utterly above the world—and of the world as ‘desacralized’, i.e., no longer a sacred entity to be responded to with emotional involvement.

In Islam, however, it is believed that its holy texts are the Koran (the word of God as revealed to Prophet Muhammad by an angel) and the Hadith or sayings of the Prophet. It is the sacred duty of every believer to accept and practice the principles enshrined in the Koran and Hadith.

Fundamentalism is sociologically important not only because of its unique place among religions, but because it easily extends itself into political realm. There is an increasing entanglement of religion in politics around the globe. Despite its theological character, it is usually linked to projects of social reform and the acquisition of political power.

In Middle East (Iran), Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently Egypt, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, many countries of Europe and even the most modernized the United States of America and to some extent India, religious fundamentalism has affected the political process and has given rise to conservative political movements and blind faith in nation­alism.

Religious fundamentalists oppose secularization of society on one or the other basis. They sometimes even question about the removal of certain chapters from educational books. In recent years, there has been increasing efforts by fundamentalists and others to censor books used in school curricula.

In Islam, fundamentalists issue fatwa against those who go against the principles of Islam (e.g., Ayatollha Khomeini of Iran issued one such fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the writer of The Satanic Verses in 1989.) There have been several deaths apparently related to the fatwa at many places. In Britain and in some European countries, male Sikhs had come into conflict for wearing turban in public. Recently, in France, girls were banned to wear burka in the school premises.

Fundamentalism is associated with a militant and sometimes violent attitude to enforcing ‘moral purity’ as defined by the fundamentalists. Frequently, fundamentalists seek to use the state to establish and enforce what they see as morality as we had seen in Taliban and Al Queda (fundamentalist organizations) controlled Afghanistan a few years back. Recently, some funda­mentalist organizations banned yoga exercises in Far East countries like Indonesia.

In Pakistan, its north-east part where a girl of sixteen years Malala was attacked by the fundamentalists for attending school (Swat) is under the full control of the fundamentalist organizations which compel the people to act according to Shariat law rather than the state laws.

It is very interesting and striking that fundamentalists are using latest modern communication technology—TV, radio, Internet, etc., to disseminate their ideas. While religious leaders directly attack many core values of the secular world, they are nevertheless willing to use its artifacts in their spiritual campaigns. Sociologist James Hunter (1983) argues that fundamentalists see ‘technology as either neutral and thus not challenging to their faith or positive—as a gift of God to further his work on earth—and thus, an enhancement to faith’.

Why is religious fundamentalism on the rise all over the world, even in modern societies of Europe and America? Is religiosity (intensity of religious feelings) is increasing? So far as ‘religiosity” is concerned, it is a qualitative factor which is difficult to measure accurately.

Some studies have been made in western countries to assess church attendance which may provide some indication of religiosity. But this measurement cannot be regarded as a true measurement of religiosity because people go to church (or religious places) for many reasons—to worship, meet friends and relatives, participate in weddings, and sometimes even with an objective of thieving or pick-pocketing, and so on. Although a few people go regularly to church or temple or mosque, the vast majority believe in ‘something’ even if no more than a vague force behind the universe.

An important development in religious life has been the dramatic rise of religious programming (performance of many religious ceremonies, delivering religious discourse or sermons, prayers, chanting mantras, playing religious music, performing dance and drama on religious theme, etc.) in the electronic media.

Organizing religious rallies and performing religious functions in public have increased tremendously. Religious personalities and groups have realized that the mass media represents an effective means of spreading religions values.

Technological advances, such as TV, cable television and satellite transmission, have facilitated the rise of ‘e-religion’. People who do not or cannot attend places of worship or listen discourses of religious person­alities, regularly watch such programmes on TV and sometimes chant mantras and recite prayers with the preacher relayed on TV.

Many people are seen kneeling to the images of God shown on TV. Aastha and Samaskar are the two most popular TV channels which relay such religious programmes regularly at appointed times. These channels are most popular among Hindus. Besides these, there are many other TV channels which relay religious programmes of different faiths.

The audience for these religious programmes is increasing day by day. Besides elderly people, many adults have also included watching and listening to these programmes in their daily routine. Increasing this type of religions consciousness may be said to be the by-product of modern life which is full of stress and strains, pulls and pressures, great competitiveness and uncertainty.

Modern religious activities and observances give some solace to the people torn by the exigencies of modern life. People visit temples for getting fast blessings like fast food. To use the phrase of Thorstein Veblen ‘conspicuous consumption’, we may call the modern religiousness as ‘conspicuous religiosity’.

References: (What's this?)

Antoun, Richard T.. (1932-2009). Professor of anthropology at the State University of New York at Binghamton (USA).
(2001) Understanding Fundamentalism. Subtitled: "Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Movements". Published by AltaMira Press, Lanham, MD, USA, a division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Brekke, Torkel. Professor of religious history. University of Oslo.
(2012) Fundamentalism. Subtitled: "Prophecy and Protest in the Age of Globalization". Published by Cambridge University Press, UK.

Bruce, Steve
(2008) Fundamentalism. 2nd edition. Published by Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

Clarke, Peter B.. Peter B. Clarke: Professor Emeritus of the History and Sociology of Religion, King's College, University of London, and currently Professor in the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford, UK.
(2011) The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion. Paperback book. Originally published 2009. Current version published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Kressel, Neil
(2007) Bad Faith: The Danger of Religious Extremism. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by Prometheus Books, New York, USA.

Partridge, Christopher
(2004, Ed.) Encyclopedia of New Religions. Hardback book. Published by Lion Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Plüss, Caroline. Assistant Professor in the Division of Sociology School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technical University, Singapore.
(2011) Migration and the Globalization of Religion. This essay is chapter 27 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages 491-506).

Ruthven, Malise
(2007) Fundamentalism. Originally published 2005. Current version published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. New edition now published as part of the “Very Short Introduction” series.


  1. Kressel (2007) chapter 1 "Who Exactly Is a Religious Extremist?" digital location 471-474 note 67.^
  2. Lehman, David (2002). "Religion and Globalization". In Linda Woodhead, Paul Fletcher, Hiroko Kawanami, and David Smith (eds.), Religion in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations. London: Routledge, 299-315. Sourced from "Migration and the Globalization of Religion" by Caroline Plüss (2011) p493-4, 498.^
  3. Antoun (2001) p2.^
  4. Bruce (2008) chapter 1, page 8-9. Chapter 3 of his book covers the communal form, and chatper four covers the individual kind.^
  5. Antoun (2001) chapter 2.^
  6. Bruce (2008) chapter 1, page 11-12.^
  7. Brekke (2012) p10. Added to this page on 2016 Apr 13.^
  8. Bruce (2008) chapter 1, page 2.^
  9. Antoun (2001) gives an example on p18 involving splits with Protestant Christianity.^
  10. Kressel (2007) chapter 4 "Dangerous Books?" digital location 2122-2123. Added to this page on 2016 Jun 10.^
  11. Ruthven (2007) chapter 4 "Controlling Women" .^
  12. Harriet A. Harris in "Encyclopedia of New Religions" by Christopher Partridge (2004) p409 Fundamentalisms. Harris is Honorary Fellow of the University of Exeter where she was previously Lecturer in Theology.^^
  13. Bruce (2008) chapter 1 p11-12 .^
  14. Brekke (2012) p22.^
  15. Brekke (2012) p24.^
  16. Brekke (2012) p11.^
  17. Ruthven (2007) p21-22.^
  18. 2016 Mar 21: Page text copied from Fundamentalism and Literalism in World Religions (as per 2012 Nov 04 edition) and then expanded upon to form this standalone page.^

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