The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History

The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History

The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History

The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History

Synopsis

This penetrating book sheds light on the psychology of fundamentalism, with a particular focus on those who become extremists and fanatics. What accounts for the violence that emerges among some fundamentalist groups? The contributors to this book identify several factors: a radical dualism, in which all aspects of life are bluntly categorized as either good or evil; a destructive inclination to interpret authoritative texts, laws, and teachings in the most literal of terms; an extreme and totalized conversion experience; paranoid thinking; and an apocalyptic world view. After examining each of these concepts in detail, and showing the ways in which they lead to violence among widely disparate groups, these engrossing essays explore such areas as fundamentalism in the American experience and among jihadists, and they illuminate aspects of the same psychology that contributed to such historical crises as the French Revolution, the Nazi movement, and post-Partition Hindu religious practice.

Excerpt

Martin E. Marty

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy gave authors and editors sound guidance when he contended that one book is about one thing; at least the good ones are. On his terms, and numerous others, this strikes me as a good book. It is clearly about one thing, the mindset of fundamentalists, especially those of militant and malevolent sorts. There are other kinds, of course, as the authors in this book all know and show. the friendly neighborhood fundamentalist at the checkout counter, in the airport line, or studying the Gospel of Luke at a nearby Bible church would be upset to be thought of as malevolent or militant, though she might grit her teeth in anger and be tempted to take a swing at you for making even a mild comment about her choice of church friends, pastors, holy book, and way of life. She may admire the National Rifle Association and its love of guns, but blandishes none herself. She may consider a bomber of an abortion clinic to be consistent and more admirable than are obstetricians who perform abortions, but would shudder if asked to be part of a bombing conspiracy. On many terms she is quite different from most of the subjects in this book.

Students of fundamentalist mindsets, like our authors, might say “Not so fast!” to anyone who, reading that paragraph, would be ready to sever all conceptual connections between the milder neighbor and the member of a fundamentalist sect in open war with others. Subjecting those milder examples to careful examination can reveal aspects of the mindset that will not hold still for close-up study when missiles fly between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim militants or when Muslims and Hindus in India engage in wars that are more than tribal. in medical laboratories scientists examine bacteria and viruses that cause a single individual to be in the hospital for treatment in order to understand the kinds of viruses and toxins that can kill millions in a plague. It is possible to speak of syndromes, spectra, or scales along . . .

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