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World Guide
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


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.

Politicized religion

Whenever 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.

Christian beginnings

Strictly 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.

Fundamentalism and the State

In 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 (legal code of Islam) 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.

Several 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 respective countries.

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'
(those who 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 Protestantism
(which 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.

A broader meaning

In 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 politically
(perhaps with violence) in order to meet their religious obligations.

Fundamentalism and globalization

Taken 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 forms.

*Published in The World Guide





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