The “fundamentalist” label has become common in everyday conversation, with Americans applying it with equal frequency to Islamic radicals, Christian conservatives, or even political ideologues of every stripe. Yet as use of the term has grown, its meaning has been obscured. That has important implications for understanding the turbulent dynamics of today’s religious and political landscape, especially as the presidential campaign heats up and violence in the Middle East persists. Experts caution that fundamentalism has different characteristics and histories in different faiths.
As coverage of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s death showed, many conservative Christians are still considered fundamentalists, and some of them wear the label proudly, as Falwell did. Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., is perhaps the best-known fundamentalist college. But in recent years the fundamentalist tag has become associated with many other religious and political phenomena. Some experts even detect fundamentalist attributes in the recent polemical writings of the so-called neo-Atheist movement. At the same time, increasingly negative associations with the word fundamentalist have led many Christians, particularly conservative evangelicals, to be more careful than ever to distance themselves from classic fundamentalism.
Journalists should use the term fundamentalist with care and generally should only use it when the individual or group labels itself that way.
Why it matters
The association between religion and violence and various forms of repression is a paramount concern and a source of fierce debate today, and the term fundamentalist is often invoked as a one-size-fits-all explanation. But attributing every problem to religious fundamentalism does not do justice to the complexity of the issues involved, to fundamentalists or even to religion in general. It’s critical to gain and communicate a deeper understanding of fundamentalism.
- R. Scott Appleby is a history professor and the John M. Regan Jr. Director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Appleby was, along with Martin E. Marty, co-director of the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Contact 574-631-5665, Appleby.firstname.lastname@example.org.
- John Green is a senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. He is also professor of political science and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. Green is a leading expert on trends in religion and politics. Contact 330-972-5182, email@example.com.
- James Davison Hunter is LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory in the sociology department at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He writes about the so-called “culture wars” in the United States and the phenomenon of religious extremism and politics. Contact 434-924-6524, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mark Juergensmeyer is director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies and professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is an expert on religious violence and is author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (updated in 2003). Contact 805-893-7898, email@example.com.
- Charles A. Kimball is a professor of religion at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and author of When Religion Becomes Evil. Contact 336-758-5465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- George M. Marsden is a history professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and one of the foremost scholars of religion. He has written extensively on fundamentalism. One of his best-known books is Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925. Contact 574-631-7319, email@example.com.
- Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago and, along with R. Scott Appleby, was co-director of the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Christian Smith is a professor of the sociology of religion at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and director of its Center for the Study of Religion. He is a leading expert on Christian movements and can speak about the distinctiveness of fundamentalists. Contact 574-631-4531, Chris.Smith@ND.edu.
- Robert J. Wuthnow is a professor of the sociology of religion at Princeton University and director of the Center for the Study of Religion. He is a leading expert on religious movements. Contact 609-258-4742, email@example.com.
EXPERTS IN CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISM
- Randall Balmer is a professor of American religion at Barnard College, Columbia University, and the author of several books on Christian conservatives and radicals. Contact 212-854-3292, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- James L. Guth is a political science professor at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., and a leading expert on conservative Christianity in the South. Greenville is home to Bob Jones University, perhaps the most prominent fundamentalist Christian campus in the United States. Contact 864-294-3330, email@example.com.
- Peter A. Huff is chairman of the department of religious studies at Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport. Huff teaches courses on global fundamentalism and is the author of a forthcoming book (January 2008) titled What Are They Saying About Fundamentalisms? (Paulist Press). Contact 318-869-5049, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Camille Lewis is chairwoman of the department of rhetoric and public address at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., and author of Romancing the Difference: Kenneth Burke, Bob Jones University and the Rhetoric of Religious Fundamentalism. Contact 864-242-5100 ext. 2701, email@example.com.
- Mark A. Noll is a history professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and a leading scholar of evangelical Christianity. He is an expert on parsing the distinctions between fundamentalists and other Christians. Contact 574-631-7266, Mark.Noll.firstname.lastname@example.org.
COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES
Several Christian colleges and universities identify as fundamentalist, and others are generally considered under the umbrella of fundamentalism. Among the agencies that accredit such schools and bible colleges are the Association for Biblical Higher Education and the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. The following are some leading fundamentalist-style schools:
- Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.
- Clearwater Christian College in Clearwater, Fla.
- Criswell College in Dallas
- Hyles-Anderson College in Hammond, Ind.
- Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.
- Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Fla.
- At the Wholesome Words Web site, Stephen Ross has a list of fundamentalist ministries and colleges.
EXPERTS IN ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM
- Jon Armajani is an associate professor of theology at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University in St. Joseph, Minn. He has written about Islamic fundamentalism and is writing a book to be titled Islam and the West: Understanding Islamic Fundamentalism. Contact 320-363-5941, email@example.com.
- Faisal Devji is an assistant professor of humanities at the Eugene Lang College of New School University in New York. He has written on jihad, militancy and modernism in Islam. Contact 212-229-5717 ext. 3048, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Carl W. Ernst is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., and an expert in Islam and South Asian religions. Contact 919-962-3924, email@example.com.
- Bruce B. Lawrence is a professor of religion at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and an expert on Islamic fundamentalism. He is the author of Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age. Contact 919-660-3506, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Anouar Majid is an English professor at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. He is a critic of religious and economic orthodoxies and examines the place of Islam in the modern world, particularly its interaction with the process of globalization. He is also a novelist and co-founder of Tingis, the Moroccan-American magazine of ideas and culture. Contact 207-602-2614 (office), 207-283-0171 (department), email@example.com.
- Mahmood Mamdani is Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and professor of anthropology at Columbia University in New York. He focused his interest in the intersection of politics and culture on Islam in his book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror. Contact 212-854-8777, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Robert A. Pape is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Program for International Security Politics. He is the author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Read a transcript of an Oct. 21, 2005, interview by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life with Pape after a forum titled “In God’s Name? Evaluating the Links Between Religious Extremism and Terrorism.” Contact 773-702-8071, email@example.com.
- Ivan A. Strenski is a professor and holder of the Holstein Endowed Chair in religious studies at the University of California, Riverside. His article “Sacrifice, Gift and the Social Logic of Muslim ‘Human Bombers’ ” was published in 2004 in the journal Terrorism and Political Violence. Contact 951-827-5986, firstname.lastname@example.org.
EXPERTS IN JEWISH FUNDAMENTALISM
- Yaakov S. Ariel is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written widely on Jewish and Christian messianism and fundamentalism. He contributed the essay “Jews” to the 2001 edition of the Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism. Contact 919-962-3930, email@example.com.
- David S. Katz is a professor of the history of books and chairman of the history department at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel. He has written about fundamentalism and scriptural literalists. Contact 972 0 3 640 7244, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Emmanuel Sivan is an emeritus professor of history at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and an expert in comparative fundamentalisms. He is a co-author, with Gabriel A. Almond and R. Scott Appleby, of Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms Around the World, a publication in the Fundamentalism Project series. Contact 972 2 588 3771, email@example.com.
Eliezer Don-Yehiya is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. He has written widely on varieties of Jewish extremism. Contact 972 3 531 8157, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally, “fundamentalist” strictly referred to a swath of deeply conservative Christians, predominantly in the American South, who in the early 20th century reacted strongly against what they saw as the encroachment of dangerous new ideas, such as evolution, biblical criticism, and liberal theology. They saw those trends as undermining the basics of the faith, and so they tried to lay down and enforce a core set of non-negotiable beliefs, known as “the Fundamentals.” The phenomenon has spread widely since then. Here are some resources for learning more:
- The Fundamentalism Project is considered the most comprehensive effort to date to describe and classify fundamentalism. Between 1988 and 1993, religion scholars Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby gathered more than 100 experts in fundamentalism around the world at 10 conferences and produced five volumes containing almost 8,000 pages of material. The table of contents of each volume is viewable online, with the author of each essay identified.
- Read an essay by Appleby and Marty, “Think Again: Fundamentalism,” from the January/February 2002 issue of Foreign Policy (in PDF format).
- For an overview of the development of fundamentalism from its Christian roots a century ago, see this entry from the online version of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society.
- The “Fundamentalism” entry at the Religious Movements Homepage Project of the University of Virginia surveys the topic and provides excerpts from the writings of scholars and links to other resources.
- Wikipedia has comprehensive entries on fundamentalism in general and Christian fundamentalism in particular. As with any open-source material, the content should be double-checked.
- Read an Oct. 4, 2001, Q&A in the Christian Science Monitor on Islamic fundamentalism with Charles A. Kimball of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., author of When Religion Becomes Evil.
- Read an essay, “Fundamentalism: A Theory,” in the fall 2005 issue of CrossCurrents, by Edward Farley, an emeritus professor of theology at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School.
- Read “The rise of global fundamentalism,” an analysis in the May 7, 2004, National Catholic Reporter.
- Read a transcript of an Oct. 21, 2005, interview by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life with Robert A. Pape after a forum titled, “In God’s Name? Evaluating the Links Between Religious Extremism and Terrorism.” Pape is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Program for International Security Politics. He wrote Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.
- Quantifying the number of religious fundamentalists in the United States is difficult. The label conveys many meanings, and it carries so much baggage that social scientists find it difficult to come up with a reliable estimate of the number of American fundamentalists.
- The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey found that 27,000 Americans identified themselves as fundamentalist Christians in 1990, and 61,000 gave themselves that identifier in 2001.
According a 2005 analysis of data from the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey of Americans 18 years and older, fundamentalists comprised 30 percent of the U.S. population in 2002- tens of millions of people – up slightly from 27 percent in 1972. The analysis also showed that the South remains a stronghold for fundamentalism; 44 percent of adults in that region claim the label. The analysis was conducted by Copernicus Marketing Consulting, which provides information to Fortune 500 companies.
- Nancy T. Ammerman is a professor of the sociology of religion in the department of theology at Boston University. She is a leading expert on religious movements and has written about the rise of fundamentalism. Contact 617-353-3066, email@example.com.
- Richard T. Antoun is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He wrote Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic and Jewish Movements. Contact 607-777-2737, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- John Stratton Hawley is Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University, and chairman of the religion department. He specializes in South Asian religions. Contact 212-854-5292, email@example.com.
- Charles B. Strozier is a history professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York in New York City, and he is director of the Center on Terrorism there. He researches and writes about the psychology of religious extremism. Contact 212-237-8432, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- W. Clyde Wilcox is a government professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a leading expert on religious and political conservatives. Contact 202-687-5273, email@example.com.
- Julie Ingersoll is an assistant professor of religious studies in the philosophy department at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. She contributed the article “Christian Reconstructionism” to the Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism. Contact 904-620-1330 ext. 3738, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Vinson Synan is a professor of Christian history at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. He has written widely on evangelicals, Pentecostals and fundamentalists, and he wrote the essay on fundamentalism for the New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Contact 757-226-4414, email@example.com.
- Akintunde E. Akinade is an associate professor in the department of religion and philosophy at High Point University in High Point, N.C. He is an expert in fundamentalism in Africa. Contact 336-841-4580, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Frank J. Lechner is an associate professor of sociology at Emory University in Atlanta. He contributed the essay “Fundamentalism” to the 1998 edition of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Contact 404-727-7530, email@example.com.
- Ralph W. Hood Jr. is a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He writes and teaches on the psychology of religious fundamentalism. Contact 423-425-4274, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- William Paul Williamson is an associate professor of psychology at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark., and an expert on the psychology of religion. He is a co-author of the 2005 edition of The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism. Contact 870-230-5119, email@example.com.
- Joel A. Carpenter is director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is the author of Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. Contact 616-526-7155, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Edith L. Blumhofer is a history professor and director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. She wrote the entry “Fundamentalism” for the 2004 edition of The Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Contact 630-752-7005, Edith.L.Blumhofer@wheaton.edu.
- Martin Riesebrodt is a sociology professor at the University of Chicago. He has written on fundamentalism in the United States and Iran. Contact 773-702-8227, email@example.com.
- Darren Sherkat is a sociology professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Ill., and a leading expert on religious movements. Contact 618-453-7614, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Santosh C. Saha is a history professor at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio. He has written on the rise of fundamentalism, particularly in the developing world. Contact 330-823-2482, email@example.com.
- William O. Beeman is chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and author of many articles on fundamentalism. Contact 612-624-8990, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ami Pedahzur is an associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written widely on political and religious extremism and fundamentalism, particularly in the Middle East. He is the author of The Israeli Response to Jewish Extremism and Violence: Defending Democracy. Contact 512-23-1452, email@example.com.
- Leslie Griffin is a professor of legal ethics at the University of Houston and an expert in the field of religion and law. She has written on the role of fundamentalist religion in the modern world, including an article in the Cardozo Law Review in 2003 titled “Fundamentalism From the Perspective of Liberal Tolerance.” Contact 713-743-1543, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ted G. Jelen is a professor of political science at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. He writes widely on conservative and radical religious movements and contributed the entry “Fundamentalism” to the 2003 Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics. Contact 702-895-3355, email@example.com.
- Leonard Weinberg is a professor of political science at the University of Nevada in Reno. He has written on fundamentalism and political extremism. Contact 775-682-7770, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Frederick Mark Gedicks is a professor of law at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who writes widely on religious issues. He is an expert on Mormons and has written about fundamentalism. Contact 801-422-4533, email@example.com.
- Peter C. Hill is a psychology professor at the Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. He contributed to the 2005 edition of The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism. Contact 562-903-6000, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- David Domke is an associate professor of communication at the University of Washington in Seattle. He writes and teaches widely on religious radicals, fundamentalism and politics. With co-author Kevin Coe he is writing a book, The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon, due for publication in November 2007 from Oxford University Press. Contact 206-685-1739, email@example.com.