Perspectives on the Core Characteristics of Religious Fundamentalism Today

By Vorster, Jakobus M. | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Perspectives on the Core Characteristics of Religious Fundamentalism Today


Vorster, Jakobus M., Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


Abstract: The surge of religious fundamentalism is a present reality. This way of reasoning breeds ideologies that are both religious and political in nature and mount themselves against a perceived threat or enemy in order to protect their identities. These ideologies elevate certain fundamentals of a particular religion or life- and worldview to absolutes and interlace their ideas and methods around these absolutes. With a strong reactionary attitude, fundamentalist ideologies and religions easily resort to extremism, militancy, abuses of human rights and even violence. Religious fundamentalist movements share certain characteristics, although they also express features that are particular to the religious tradition from which they emerged. They have many characteristics in common, and this fact points to the possibility that fundamentalist movements emerge under the impact of rather similar processes of social transformation. The purpose of this article is to identify, by way of a comparative literary study, the most outstanding characteristics of religious fundamentalism as it appear in its most prominent manifestations in today's world.

Key Words:

Fundamentalism, Biblicism, scripturalism, casuistic ethics, traditioning, prejudice, human rights, violence, in-group

Introduction

The term fundamentalism was first used to identify a certain movement in Protestant Christianity which germinated in the United States in the 1920's and spread to other parts of the world.1 Nowadays the concept is used to describe a certain form of religious belief which is characterised by extremism and an inclination to violence. I have defined this contemporary movement in a previous article in the Journal for the study of Religions and Ideologies.2 In the article I concluded that contemporary religious fundamentalism can be defined as a way of reasoning which breeds ideologies that are both religious and political in nature and mount themselves against a perceived threat or enemy in order to protect their identities. These ideologies elevate certain fundamentals of a particular religion or life- and worldview to absolutes and interlace their ideas and methods around these absolutes. With a strong reactionary attitude, fundamentalist ideologies and religions easily resort to extremism, militancy, abuses of human rights and even violence. The clearest example of this is the current Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and Africa.3

Riesebrodt raises a valid point when he says that these fundamentalist movements share certain characteristics, although they also express features that are particular to the religious tradition from which they emerged. They have many characteristics in common, and this fact points to the possibility that fundamentalist movements emerge under the impact of rather similar processes of social transformation.4.

The surge of fundamentalism is a present reality and it inhibits peace keeping and the maintenance of human rights in parts of the world troubled by violence and the violation of the principle of human dignity. How should this reality be managed in today's Liberal Democracies in such a way that human rights can be protected and peace be promoted? To answer this question, a clear understanding of the characteristics of fundamentalism and the way it operates is essential.

The purpose of this article is to identify, by way of a comparative literary study the most outstanding characteristics of contemporary religious fundamentalism as it appears in its most prominent forms in today's world. To my mind an understanding of these core characteristics can assist the management of this movement in Liberal Democracies and transitions from unjust systems to Liberal Democracies. The oldest feature of fundamentalism is the particular way in which this movement deals with religious texts or the basic tradition it stems from. Barr has done valuable research with respect to Christian fundamentalism regarding its use of scripture in his well-known book5 and the summary in an article. …

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