The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism

By Ralph W. Hood, Jr.; Peter C. Hill et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Fundamentalist Religion as an Intratextual Search for Meaning

The distinctive nature of religious meaning is not simply
that one thing is seen to represent another conceptually.
Meaning is not just denotative, as a red light stands for
“stop,” or the image of a lily stands for purity. Much more
specific to religion than cognitive representation is the
participatory character of meanings and symbols. Religious
symbols and words do not simply signify, they speak and
perform—and in so doing they transform perception,
punctuate the routine world with their own power, effect
felt presences, and engage the participant. The purpose of
religious language is not just to represent the world but to
act one out. The sacred is enacted through words, stories,
images, and the construction of consecrated space and time.

—PADEN (1992, pp. 97–98)

Religious fundamentalism has increasingly captured the concern of America and the world over recent decades. What began in the 1970s as a budding interest among social scientists in the rising political influence of fundamentalism in America has long since flourished into worldwide concern about its cross-cultural presence and sometimes militant role in international unrest, particularly since 9/11. Although historians, political scientists, and sociologists have carefully watched, and have assembled a massive literature on fundamentalism, social psychologists have had surprisingly little to say about the matter. Although we applaud what others have contributed toward understanding this compelling movement, we nevertheless feel the need to address what seems to be an obvious neglect from a psychological perspective, in an effort to

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