Competing Fundamentalisms: Violent Extremism in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism

By Sudworth, Richard J. | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Competing Fundamentalisms: Violent Extremism in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism


Sudworth, Richard J., Anglican Theological Review


Competing Fundamentalisms: Violent Extremism in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. By Sathianathan Clarke. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. vii-246 pp. $30.00 (paper).

In an era rocked by fundamentalist violence, much public discourse could lead one to believe that there are just two possible conclusions to draw: religions have just one manifestation, thus violence done in the name of a faith is entirely a result of religious inspiration; or religions are inherently benign phenomena, thus any extremist violence is invariably a product of external, political factors causing distortions to a faith's essentially peaceable tradition. Competing Fundamentalisms, admirably, seeks to chart a way through these two reductive analyses to reflect on shared aspects of violent extremism in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Clarke's task is a welcome effort at "explaining fundamentalism as a thoroughly religious phenomenon" (p. 35) located in specific traditions and particular geographical contexts.

Clarke traces the origins of fundamentalist movements in each of the three religions, seeing a shared root in early twentieth century reactions against modernity that have evolved into violent expressions in the twentyfirst century. Each "fundamentalism," he argues, relies on literal and dogmatic interpretations of sacred texts and absolutist political systems that express the closed ethical system of the respective religious tradition. While reacting to modernity, each is informed by uncritical engagement with religious texts. As Clarke rightly notes, religious fundamentalism competes within particular traditions as well as beyond and across religious traditions (p. 156).

Countering the violence of fundamentalist religions is a necessary task of peacemaking requiring traditioned approaches, Clarke asserts. He calls for a "detoxifying" of scripture that alerts people to violent texts so as to consciously and explicitly reject them, accompanied by reading practices that see scripture as a whole, weaving a hermeneutic of peacemaking through scriptural reflection. The ethic offered in conclusion is a counternarrative of completing the possibility of the flower garden, against the competing narrative of the battlefield (p. …

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