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Authority, Authoritarianism, and Religion  

Ryan P. Burge

Since around the 1950s, hundreds of articles have been published in social science that are concerned with the concept of authority and authoritarianism and how both relate to religion. Despite this tremendous volume of research, two camps have emerged that have failed to incorporate the ideas of the other. Psychologists contend that deference to authority is primarily a personality-driven variable and is often shaped by subconscious and undetected psychological processes that are unchangeable once established. In contrast, sociologists contend that authoritarianism is largely a product of interaction in a social environment. This perspective suggests that religion is one of many factors that help to shape the authoritarian outlook of individuals, along with political and economic variables. Neither of these approaches has managed to synthesize their perspectives into a unified whole. In addition, while many scholars have included some aspect of religion in their analysis, little scholarship has placed it at the center of the inquiry. As a result, there has been no well-defined and thoroughly tested theory of religious authority, despite the fact that authority has driven two of the most important recent religious movements in the United States: the Religious Right and the Emergent Church Movement. Several suggestions are offered as means to make measurable progress in the field of religion and regard for authority. One way forward is to generate and test a battery of questions that measures authority from a uniquely religious perspective. Another opportunity lies in scholars measuring the deference to authority levels that exist in different religious traditions. These comparisons could be between Jews and Catholics, or even inside the larger Protestant tradition. Finally, scholars should make a concerted effort to connect clergy with their congregations as a means to discern if perceptions of authority are congruent between a religious leader and his or her parishioners.

Article

Fundamentalism as a Cross-National, Cross-Traditional Concept  

Jeffrey Haynes

“Religious fundamentalism” is a term that, for several decades now, has been a staple of writing about the general involvement of religion in politics. “Religious fundamentalism” is nearly always associated with “traditional,” “conservative,” or “right-wing” understandings of the world. It is articulated and pursued by those who appear to believe that the world would be a better place if all people lived by the word of (their) God, as articulated and set forth in their particular faith’s holy scriptures. In addition, for many, “religious fundamentalism” implies a rejection of modernity and a wish to return to the past, to a—perhaps mythical—time when people lived by God’s jurisdiction. Despite what some believe, it is clear that religious fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon, although with historical antecedents. As a concept, “religious fundamentalism” has been widely employed since the late 1970s, especially by the mass media and many scholars. It has been used to describe and explain quite a few, sometimes rather diverse, religious movements around the globe with political aspirations to change society. The designation “fundamentalist” was first applied by some American Protestants to themselves in the 1920s. In the early 21st century, as a generic term, it is now widely applied additionally to a multitude of groups outside the corpus of American Protestantism. Generally speaking, the character and impact of fundamentalist doctrines is located within a nexus of moral and social issues revolving, in many contemporary countries and religions, around state–society interactions. “Modernization” has affected many people’s lives in profound and sometimes disconcerting ways. For some religious fundamentalists, this was manifested in an initial defensiveness, which eventually developed for many into a political offensive that sought to alter the prevailing social and political realities of state–society relations. That rulers were performing inadequately and/or corruptly, led many—but not all—religious fundamentalists to relate contemporary developments to a critical reading of their faith’s holy texts. The significance of this from a political perspective was that it could serve to supply an already restive group with a ready-made manifesto for social change. Many religious leaders saw the opportunity and began explicitly to use a selective reading of religious texts both to challenge secular rulers and to propose a program for often radical societal or sociopolitical reforms. Under these circumstances, it was often relatively easy for fundamentalist leaders to gain the support of those who felt that in some way the development of society was not proceeding according to God’s will or their community’s interests. In sum, various manifestations of what are generically referred to as religious fundamentalisms have appealed to different groups for different reasons at different times.

Article

Terrorism and Religion: Christian Fundamentalism  

Douglas Pratt

Terrorism is a multifaceted phenomenon. It is by no means the sole province of religious fundamentalism although it can be (and sometimes is) the end result of an ideological trajectory identified as “fundamentalist.” Following a “higher dictate” or a “divine command” may obviate otherwise normal attributions of culpability. Thus, Christian extremism can issue in terrorism, where an otherwise negatively valued destructive act can be transformed and rendered acceptable, even laudable. Such acts may qualify as terrorist, at least in some respects. An analysis of the ideology of religious fundamentalism reveals that an extreme perspective can originate as simply a passive viewpoint, manifest as an assertive identity orientation, and emerge to be a fanatically imposed program of aggressive behaviors and actions. Christian fundamentalism is a specific variant of religious fundamentalism and, indeed, it is from within modern Christian history that the term “fundamentalism” arose. Its use today is much broader, denoting a generic phenomenon with wide application, even beyond religion. The motif of exclusivism, which is inherent to fundamentalist ideologies and values, is an important dimension to be taken account of. It is critical to understanding the specifics of Christian extremism and terrorism. Similarly, the issue of theological justification for Christian extremism and violence, together with biblical motifs and references for violence and extremism, are important dimensions for critical study. Christian extremism rests on select biblical models and references, such as that of Phineas (Num. 25) and proffers self-justifying theological support. In short, Christian fundamentalism manifests an ideological sequence of factors whose cumulative impact once (or if) the final factor of enacting violence is reached, can be devastating. There is historical evidence for this as well as contemporary examples. The ideological and behavioral trajectory of 21st-century fundamentalist Christians can—and in some situations does—result in deadly terrorist behavior. And as with any religion, such ideology leading to terrorism is necessarily extreme: a deviance from the norm of religious values and behaviors.