“Religious fundamentalism refers to the belief of an individual or a group of individuals in the absolute authority of a sacred religious text or teachings of a particular religious leader, prophet, and/ or God” (1). The fundamentalist views her religion as absolute which nullifies any future possibility of her ever changing beliefs. When religion is seen as absolute it becomes fundamentalism. Journalist Michael Specter diagnoses fundamentalism to be when “People wrap themselves in their beliefs. And they do it in such a way that you can’t set them free. Not even the truth will set them free” (2). This absolutism is sometimes a product of fear. Many religious people look to their religion for a system that does not change, and in this way it provides them with a sense of stability.
A commonality between fundamentalists is that their own religion is exempt from form of criticism and should therefore be forced upon others. Evidence from science and/or history should be opposed if it doesn’t agree with the fundamentalist’s interpretation of their scripture. It is the “defining trait of the fanatic… is the utter refusal to allow anything as piddling as evidence to get in the way of an unshakable belief” (3). It is not uncommon for fundamentalists to force their beliefs on society at large.
However, “fundamentalism,” which is a western concept, is often misunderstood and used incorrectly. This is because most fundamentalists are not violent. Fundamentalism in the non-violent sense is often a resistance to, and fear of, modern secularists & secularization. In response fundamentalists might retreat from the world and produce their own education systems etc. Yet it remains that often a core of their beliefs is ostensibly irrational, demonstrably false, and oftentimes contrary to scientific evidence. This fundamentalism unfortunately shuts off the doorway to the acceptance of modern ideas and scientific principles. Most notable here is the Young Earth Creationist thinktank Answers in Genesis who routinely labels any dissenters (those who do not accept their views and interpretation, whether that be other scientists or Christians) as “compromisers” of God’s Word. As has been noted before, when fundamentalist groups feel attacked they tend to become stronger and have more influence.
Fundamentalism in Islam is most commonly associated with terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS. These groups regard Western civilization as the symbol of the secular modernization that is a threat to traditional Islamic values, thus they produce violent opposition. This is known as extreme fundamentalism that is responsible for many deaths and that causes so much suffering and misery. Christian fundamentalism, though not extreme, is often associated with, for example, doctrines of inerrancy and premillennial eschatology. These Christians consider the world to be doomed until Jesus returns and defeats the Antichrist. They also tend to view the world from a Manichean perspective (for instance, as good vs. evil, light vs. dark). If this is how one is to define Christian fundamentalism many Christians would, it would seem, be happy to accept such a label.
Fundamentalism stretches beyond Islam and Christianity, although it is more subtle in many ways. Hinduism, for example doesn’t believe in a supreme authority that dictated any sacred text, though it does have its own holy texts. Sikhism, however, especially as in the Khalistan movement of the 1980s, has been labelled a fundamentalist movement because of its goal of achieving an independent Sikh state. Much less fundamentalism is seen in the believers of Buddhism and Jainism. These religions emphasize the promotion of peace and non-violence. However, a Buddhist branch in Japan (the Soka Gakkai sect of Nichiren Buddhism) denies the credibility of all other forms of Buddhism, and has been viewed as being fundamentalist.
1. World Atlas. 2016. What is Religious Fundamentalism? Available.
2. Michael Specter quoted by Dr. Purushothaman in Belief Quotes. p. 70.
3. Huffington, A. 2006. Still Optimist About Iraq? Available.