Fundamentalism is the movements that vigorously assert traditional religion in the face of modern developments. Fundamentalism arose within CHRISTIANITY in the United States at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Some scholars insist that it is best to use the term only for Christianity. It is now common, however, to talk about fundamentalism in other religions, too, such as ISLAM and HINDUISM.
Modernism—industrialization; the development of the natural sciences, including the theory of biological evolution; the rise of states whose populations practice a number of religions and that are ofﬁ cially secular or neutral with regard to religion; research in history and archaeology that has called traditional religious claims into question—all of these developments and more have presented challenges to traditional religions. Many religious people have attempted to adjust their religious convictions to these developments. Fundamentalists have responded differently. They often think of themselves as preserving their religious traditions unchanged or as returning to the way things were. In many cases, however, they are producing something new. Nevertheless, they address modernism by opposing it.
Modernism has had different effects on different religious traditions. For Christians in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, it called into question the accuracy of the B IBLE and teachings like the divinity, the VIRGIN BIRTH, MIRACLES, and the RESURRECTION of JESUS. Fundamentalist Christians responded by making a list of “fundamentals” that Christians had to believe.
Unlike Christianity, Hinduism does not have basic beliefs. Instead, Hindu fundamentalism has reacted to centuries of rule by Muslim and Christian rulers. Hindu fundamentalists see Hindutva—Hindu culture rather than Hinduism as a religion—under attack from two sources: secularism and Islam. They want to make India a Hindu state.
Islamic fundamentalism sees Islam, too, as under attack. Muslim fundamentalists often consider Europe and especially the United States as their ultimate enemy. They urge stricter observance of SHARIAH, GOD’s law for human beings. Fundamentalists living under Islamic governments often see those governments as being too lax in their support for Islam. Those born in Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States favor strictly following Islam as a way to establish their identity as Muslims. Muslim fundamentalists also see the state of Israel as an attempt by European powers to take territory from Muslims, as happened during the CRUSADES.
Separate entries provide further details on Christian, Hindu, and Islamic fundamentalism. But it is also important to keep several more general points in mind.
First, fundamentalism is often a pejorative term, that is, a term that people use for something they condemn. Perhaps for that reason, people do not often speak of Jewish or Buddhist fundamentalism, even though JUDAISM and BUDDHISM, too, have movements that reject modernism. For example, instead of Jewish fundamentalism we tend to speak of HASIDISM and, a very different movement, ZIONISM.
Second, it is common to link especially Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism with violence and terrorism. We should be cautious. On the one hand, some Christian fundamentalists have committed violent and terrorist acts, too. Examples include antiabortion activists and, more loosely, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. McVeigh had connections with a movement known as Christian Identity, which recommended bombing federal buildings. On the other hand, just as most Christian fundamentalists do not engage in violence, the same is true of most Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists.
Third, fundamentalists may oppose some features of modernism, but they still live in the modern world. They are not old-fashioned and out of date. For example, they have been very willing to use modern inventions, such as television and the Internet, to promote their causes.