"Fundamentalism" in Christianity & Islam
The chaos of religious terminology:
There is no field of human study whose language is in such a chaotic
religion. We have discovered one common religious word that has 17 distinct meanings --
some of which are antonyms. We located another word with eight meanings --
all quite different. Another term has six meanings. Within each "wing" of
Christianity, there is usually a general agreement on which definition to use in a
given context. But each "wing" often uses a different definition. This
dialog and debate to be almost impossible among Christians, and even more
difficult between Christians and followers of other religions.
This web site
contains a glossary which
explains common definitions for many religious terms.
The term "Fundamentalist."
One of the most controversial religious terms in North America is
||Within academic circles, the term is generally used in a precise
manner. For example, Author Karen Armstrong defines fundamentalist
movements as "embattled
forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived
crisis" - namely the fear that modernity will erode or even eradicate their faith and morality.
1 That concern is shared by Fundamentalist
Christians, Jews, and
Muslims, Sikhs, and
||Within Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faiths, the media
generally use the term to refer to the most conservative wing of the
religion. For example, fundamentalist Christianity is often described as
the most conservative wing of Evangelicalism.
||However, sometimes the term is used as a general-purpose "snarl"
word which is intended to denigrate a religious group, implying that
they are intolerant or prone to violence.
Fundamentalism in Christianity:
In Christianity, the term fundamentalism is normally used to refer
to the conservative part of
evangelical Christianity, which is itself the most conservative wing of
Protestant Christianity. Fundamentalist Christians typically believe that
the Bible is inspired by God and is inerrant.
They reject modern analysis of the Bible as a
historical document written by authors who were attempting to promote
their own evolving spiritual beliefs. Rather, they view the bible as the
Word of God, internally consistent, and free of error.
The term "Fundamentalist" derives from a 1909 publication "The Fundamentals: A testimony to the
truth" which proposed five required Christian beliefs for
those opposed to the Modernist movement.
Originally a technical theological term, it became commonly used after
the "Scopes" trial in Tennessee during the mid 1920s. Dayton,
Tennessee in 1925. John Scopes, a high school biology teacher was on trial
for contravening the state's Butler Act. It forbade the teaching of "any theory that denies the story of the
Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has
descended from a lower order of animals." 4,5
Although Scopes was found guilty, many felt that he had won a
By the late 1930's Christian fundamentalists had formed a sub-culture and
had largely withdrawn from the rest of society. Following major revisions to
Roman Catholic beliefs and practices during the Vatican II conferences in
the 1960's, the term "fundamentalist" started to be used to refer to
Catholics who rejected the changes, and wished to retain traditional beliefs
and practices. Thus it became a commonly used word to describe the most
conservative groups within Christianity: both Protestant and Catholic.
Back in the 1960's many theologians and historians expected that religions
would become less conservative and generally weaker with time. That did not
happen. Instead, the fundamentalist wings of major world religions,
including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism,
Sikhism, have grown and become increasingly dedicated to preserving
religious tradition. Karen Armstrong has addressed Fundamentalism in
Christianity, Islam and Judaism in her book: "The Battle for God."
In the U.S., the Fundamentalist-led Moral Majority emerged to
challenge social and religious beliefs and practices. Today, Fundamentalists
are the most vocal group, on a per-capital basis -- who oppose abortion
access, equal rights for homosexuals,
protection for homosexuals from
hate crimes, physician assisted
suicide, the use of embryonic stem cells for
medical research, comprehensive sex-ed classes in public schools, etc.
The Assemblies of God is one Fundamentalist
denomination. The Southern Baptist Convention has moved towards
fundamentalism in recent years. Bob
Jones University, the General Association of Regular Baptists,
the Moody Bible Institute, etc.are also
Fundamentalist. Among the most generally known Fundamentalist Christian
leaders are Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Hal Lindsey.
Fundamentalism in Islam:
The term Fundamentalist has been extensively misused by the media to refer to
terrorists who happen to be Muslim, or who are anti-American Muslims. This is not accurate. Fundamentalist Islam is
simply the conservative wing of Islam, just as fundamentalist Christianity
is the conservative wing of Christianity. The vast majority of
Muslmi fundamentalists are pious individuals who
strictly follow the teachings of Mohammed, promote regular attendance at
mosques, and promote the reading of the Qur'an. Many promote the concept of
theocratic government, in which Sharia (Islamic law) becomes the law of
the state. Most probably view the West as secular, ungodly, decadent and
obsessed with sex.
Most Middle Eastern terrorists are
probably fundamentalist Muslims, but they share little with their fellow
fundamentalists. They represent an extremist, radical wing of
fundamentalist Islam, which is composed of people who believe that the Islamic
state must be imposed on the people from above, using violent action if
necessary. This movement is fueled by social, religious, and economic
stressors in many of the Muslim countries: lack of democracy; autocratic, unelected political leaders; millions of Palestinian refugees, extreme
wealth for a minority, and often extreme poverty for most of the public;
poor human rights records; high unemployment. Perhaps the greatest stressor
of all is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has lasted over five
decades. It is fueling much of the anger, instability, unrest, distrust,
hostility, and feelings of victimization in the region. The U.S. is
viewed as favoring and supporting Israel. They have given over three billion
dollars a year in military and economic aid to Israel. The lack of a peace
settlement, the continuing expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied
lands, the status of the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount in
Jerusalem -- the third most sacred spot in Islam -- and the status of the
Muslim section of the city of Jerusalem are major flash points. 6
Another stressor is the past presence of many American troops in Saudi-Arabia; this
seen by many radical Fundamentalist Muslims as a desecration of holy ground.
The two most sacred places in Islam -- Mecca and Medina -- are located in
that country. Although the U.S. has come to the assistance of oppressed
Muslims as in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kuwait, anti-American feelings are
running high because of the invasion on Iraq.
Michael Youssef is a Evangelical Christian who was born in Egypt. On the program Focus on the Family
for Friday, 2001-SEP-14, he described the extremist radical terrorist
wing as believing that the world is divided into two sections: The House
of Islam and the House of War. The former is composed of all
devout Muslims. The latter is composed of the other five billion humans on
earth with which the extremist radicals are in a state of total war.
Karen Armstrong, "The Battle for God," Knopf, (2000).
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
"Fundamentalism and Islam," The Wisdom Fund, at:
"Islamic Fundamentalism," at:
"Tennessee vs. John Scopes: The 'Monkey Trial,' " at: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/
"Monkey Trial: Debate over creationism and evolution still with
Based on an ABC interview on 2001-SEP-12 hosted by Peter Jennings, and including
Haran Ashrawi, representing the PLO; Hisham Melhem, a reporter from Beirut
Lebenon; David Makovsky, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and
Judith Kipper, an ABC Middle Eastern consultant.
Copyright © 2001 and 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally posted: 2001-SEP-19
Latest update: 2004-AUG-14