Resisting Modernity: The Backlash against Secularism

By Armstrong, Karen | Harvard International Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Resisting Modernity: The Backlash against Secularism


Armstrong, Karen, Harvard International Review


By the middle of the 20th century, pundits and intellectuals in the West generally took it for granted that secularism was the coming ideology and that religion would never again play a major role in public life. However, within a few years, it became clear that a militant piety had erupted in every major faith, dragging God and religion back to center stage from the sidelines to which they had been relegated. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran showed the potential of this new form of faith. Western observers were astonished to see an obscure mullah overturning what had appeared to be one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East. "Who ever took religion seriously?" cried a frustrated official in the US State Department shortly after the revolution. But the United States itself had recently witnessed the rise of Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority, and a radical religiosity fueled the Arab-Israeli conflict on both sides.

Despite these symptoms, the secularist establishment struggled to understand what was happening, even though it was clear that this so-called "fundamentalism" was becoming ever more extreme. The atrocities of September 11, 2001, showed that the West can no longer afford the old secularist disdain for religiously inspired politics, and that scholars must now study fundamentalism as attentively as any other ideology.

"Fundamentalism" is an unsatisfactory word. Conservative Protestant theologians coined it in the early 20d: century to describe their reform movement: they wanted to go back to the "fundamentals" of the faith. But people in other religious traditions complain when this Christian term is applied to their own movements. Protestant fundamentalists, they argue, were chiefly concerned about dogma and theological belief, while Jewish or Muslim traditionalists have different priorities. Nevertheless, despite its inadequacy, the term fundamentalism has become a shorthand way of referring to a broad band of religious movements in all the major faiths that bear a strong family resemblance. While this short survey shall be confined to fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it is important not to forget the fundamentalism that has erupted in Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. There is also a form of secular fundamentalism, which opposes all forms of faith as belligerently as religious fundamentalists attack secularism.

Religious fundamentalism represents a widespread rebellion against the hegemony of secularist modernity. Wherever a modern, Western-style society has been established, a religious counterculture has developed alongside it in conscious rebellion. Despite the arguments of politicians and intellectuals, people all over the world have demonstrated that they want to see more religion in public life. The various fundamentalist ideologies show a worrying disenchantment with modernity and globalization. Indeed, every single fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation. All are convinced that the modern, liberal, secular establishment wants to wipe out religion. Each fundamentalist group has sprung up independently; each even differs significantly from other fundamentalists within their own faith tradition. But at the root of all these movements is the same visceral dread that is rapidly being transformed in some quarters into ungovernable rage. This should not surprise us; culture is always contested, and the proud secularism of Western modernity was almost bound to inspire a strong religions reaction.

Not all religious conservatives are fundamentalists. The US evangelist Billy Graham, for example, is not a fundamentalist; he would not describe himself as such, nor would he be accepted in fundamentalist circles as one of their own. Graham has always been prepared to work with other Christians, while fundamentalists are more radical separatists.

Fundamentalist movements usually follow a similar pattern in all three faiths.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Resisting Modernity: The Backlash against Secularism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.