Rethinking Fundamentalism in a Secular Age - Rethinking Secularism - Craig J. Calhoun

Rethinking Secularism - Craig J. Calhoun (2011)

Chapter 10. Rethinking Fundamentalism in a Secular Age

R. Scott Appleby


The term “fundamentalism” continues to be used broadly in the media and by some policy makers and scholars to refer to individuals, movements, and organizations judged to be religiously committed to an envisioned moral order and to an accompanying political or social project, to such a degree that they are actively intolerant of those who do not share their faith and ideology, and are willing to impose their vision and program by force if necessary. Although this popular working definition could be applied to certain nation-states with little or no qualification, the term is generally used to refer to movements of opposition against the state. The label continues to be applied most frequently to Islamic movements and parties, although it is also used to describe Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist actors. Christians are now treated with more nuance; it is less common to conflate fundamentalists and Evangelicals.

In its most egregious misapplication, “fundamentalism” is applied to any movement, party, or individuals who offer theological or religious warrants for their public positions and programs, when those positions or programs are judged by the labeler to deviate significantly from liberal, secular, or “cosmopolitan” norms.

To the extent that the academy could properly be expected to have a discernible impact on public discourse in the United States, Canada, Europe, and nations beyond the West, through the dissemination of careful scholarship that undermines inaccurate and irresponsible reporting and evaluation of complex and multivalent phenomena, then one would have to account the academy largely a failure in the area of public and politicized religion. More distressingly, some of the scholarship on fundamentalism no doubt contributed to the imprecise use of the term, which can have serious consequences for politically active, law-abiding people of faith.

Is “fundamentalism,” then, merely a shibboleth, a construct of anxious or predatory opponents of politically engaged religious groups that are deemed conservative or orthodox, antiliberal or “extreme”? In what follows, I offer a conditional “no” in answer to this question. But getting there requires a more refined and nuanced understanding of the term and of the realities to which it gestures. It also requires rethinking the relationship between the secular and the religious in line with the ways that relationship is constantly being negotiated and renegotiated by so-called fundamentalist movements and parties.

In 1988, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) launched a massive project on “global fundamentalisms.” Two years earlier, the MacArthur Foundation had awarded the AAAS a sizable grant bearing the following stipulations: the money was to be used to study a phenomenon that would have public implications well into the twenty-first century and require the perspectives of several disciplines of the academy in order to be understood in its various dimensions. The council of the AAAS then debated which “phenomenon” should be examined according to these broad guidelines; suggestions included the global emergence of HIV/AIDS (still dawning on public awareness at that time), new scientific and ethical horizons opened by genetic engineering, and teen pregnancy across cultures. In the end, however, the council decided to devote the resources to an exploration of the “global resurgence of religion,” instances of which journalists had been referring to, promiscuously, as “fundamentalism” at least since the Khomeini-led Shi’ite revolution in 1978-79 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The AAAS initiative, which I codirected, was called the Fundamentalism Project (TFP).

The task of this chapter is to reflect critically on the study of “fundamentalism,” with specific reference to TFP, with the following question in mind: What might a reconsideration of the project’s methods, assumptions, themes, and findings contribute to this book’s remapping of secularism? Given that TFP was an extraordinary example of how knowledge is produced, reproduced, and disseminated within a specific and limiting historical, political, and social context, I offer here, by way of introduction, three observations on the project’s origins and structure, and on the challenges inherent in pulling it off.1


Initially, several AAAS council members opposed TFP. The opponents were senior U.S. scientists, some of whom had worked on the Manhattan Project and other important policy-related initiatives of the postwar period. At a memorable meeting of this old guard, shortly after TFP was announced, it became dramatically clear that most, if not all, of these distinguished academic elites were profoundly secular in the most antireligious sense of the term; in the late 1980s, they were distraught at the prominence of any kind of religion in public life, and many were particularly incensed by the teaching of creationism in some public schools. Among scores of similar comments at that meeting, one beautifully crystallized the dominant attitude among the scientists: “If we are giving this much money to the study of religion, then the project should help to wipe it off the face of the earth.”

My senior colleague in directing TFP, the religious historian (and Lutheran minister) Martin Marty, shared not one iota of this sentiment. When he described the purposes of the project to the waves of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, religionists, and regional specialists who contributed to it, Marty would insist that the main purpose of TFP “is to hold up a mirror to the academy and learn what assumptions, prejudices, distortions and incomplete understandings color our perceptions of religion and religions, believers and those cast as ‘other.’” He liked to compare the academy’s perspective on those called fundamentalists with the ancient cartographers whose maps contained wildly imagined illustrations of uncharted territories, which were inscribed with the warning “Here be Monsters!”

As earnest as Marty’s injunction to critical self-reflection was, some authors ignored it. In defining “fundamentalism,” they focused on the “antisecularism” of the fundamentalists, who were therefore a bane to the enlightened, liberal academy and the progressive society it existed to serve. One author defined fundamentalists exclusively by what purportedly they were not: not secular, not feminist, not liberal, not democratic, and so on.2 Despite the fact that we gave explicit instructions to the contributors not to reify the category “fundamentalism” by forcing into it the movements or groups they knew best, several did exactly that. (Thus, for example, a particular Christian Evangelical movement in Latin America became “fundamentalist” owing to its politicized opposition to family planning.)


Although our assignment was to describe “the world of fundamentalism,” we hastened to render “world” and “fundamentalism” in the plural: we would chart the worlds of fundamentalisms. This adjustment, of course, obscured a deeper challenge, namely, how to compare (or make any substantive, defensible generalizations about) movements, groups, and individuals from such disparate historical, geographic, and cultural backgrounds, different host religions, political orientations, and so on, while using one umbrella term.3 To avoid the clumping and clustering pitfalls of broad comparative study, we considered alternatives to “fundamentalism” (e.g., “radical neo-traditionalism,” a term employed by William Shepherd to describe essentially the same phenomenon) and discarded them as (equally) inadequate to the task. If we intended to influence the public discourse about religion, some members of the advisory committee argued, it would be best to stick with the onerous term and attempt to modify its usage. Second, contributors in the early stages of the project were encouraged to set precedent by indicating in each essay the problems with the term and to suggest different language to describe the movement(s) they knew best and about which they were writing. Third, members of that core group, especially the editors, were careful to place the term “fundamentalism” in scare quotes, and to introduce it with the following caveat: “In this project, we use ‘fundamentalism’ as a broad comparative construct to investigate the possibility that a number of otherwise disparate religious movements and groups share certain ‘family resemblances’ (Wittgenstein) in their method of responding to a host of challenges facing them in the secular modern world. It should be emphasized that these movements emerge from different religious traditions and historical contexts, differ in religious doctrine, worldview, ideology and structures of religious organization and authority, and are often at odds with one another if and when they come into contact.”


One of the aspects of TFP that raised the stakes for its observers and critics was the fact that the AAAS billed it as “an interdisciplinary public-policy study.” Apart from the use the essays may or may not have been put to by public officials, policy makers, educators, and journalists, the very fact of a massive public-policy study of “religious fundamentalism” itself reinforced the perception that religion, and especially “strong religion,” was becoming a significant national-security problem. Although reinforcing the notion of a “clash of civilizations” was far from the editors’ intention (Huntington’s essay appeared during the last publication phase of TFP) and despite the fact that TFP never offered policy recommendations of any kind, it quickly became clear to us that the project would not be able to escape implication in the political and ideological battles raging around the significance of Islamist movements, the New Christian Right, Jewish irredentism, Hindu nationalism, and other manifestations of newly empowered “antisecular, antidemocratic, antiliberal” religion. Of course, this was not the first or last scholarly project that left itself open to being construed and applied in various ways by public officials and policy makers; scholars of political Islam, for example, have plenty of stories to tell on this score. But we maintained a studied neutrality on policy matters, beyond repeatedly (and ineffectively) urging educators and policy makers to study the original sources and develop an empathy for religious sensibilities not their own, and we tried to comfort ourselves in the knowledge that if we could not prevent the project from being overwhelmed by political and ideological critiques of left and right, at least we were being attacked from both sides. That is, while many reviewers claimed that we were being “too soft” on the fundamentalists—“were they in power, they would not be so tolerant of academics,” as Rosemary Radford Ruether put it in the New York Times Book Review—others insisted that we were out to discredit any form of religious expression that did not conform to our bland liberal variety.

In sum, to be fair to TFP, the editors and core contributors were not naïve or dismissive of the significant methodological and conceptual challenges that accompanied the endeavor from the outset. But our strategies for mitigating these problems may have been inadequate to the task, and the failure fully to anticipate the sharpest ideological and political dimensions of the project probably served to exacerbate the conceptual and methodological difficulties.



It has been the source of no little disappointment to me that, despite all of the hoopla surrounding the Fundamentalism Project, many of the most important interpreters of religion in the academy are not conversant with its findings, including the refined definition of fundamentalism and the explanation of the religious logic and corresponding mode of religiosity that we found manifest in seventeen movements, or clusters of movements, around the world. These results were published in 2003, after a decade of winnowing the field of candidates for inclusion in the family of religious fundamentalisms. In that final statement, we cautioned readers against reintroducing into the family any of the numerous candidates we had rejected, including most forms of Pentecostalism, Muslim missionary movements such as the Tablighi Jamaat, and apolitical Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish movements.4

The lack of familiarity with TFP’s mature findings has not prevented scholars from weighing in critically on them. To be fair, the diligent reader of the entire published works of the project would have to read roughly 3700 printed pages before arriving at the cumulative, synthetic, refined, and more defensible final statement contained in the two volumes just cited. That the overall project was judged by many critics solely on the basis of its earlier publications, or publicity about them, is perhaps understandable; the monograph-length essays collected in the first four volumes contain invaluable information and analysis. Many rightly remain the standard treatment of their topic. Still, those essays were also winnowed in the preparation of the final statement.

Accordingly, when I present the findings of TFP, at least in terms of delineating the “family resemblances” that justify the comparative endeavor, I rely largely on that final synthetic statement and on its explanations of the ideological and organizational characteristics and dynamics that identify a movement as belonging to the family of fundamentalisms. Briefly, I now recapitulate these characteristics, with the caveat that no one or two or three of them can be taken in isolation from the others—indeed, many religious, as well as secular, movements share a number of these characteristics without being “fundamentalist.” But in the real world of lived religion, fundamentalism has a distinct religious logic unlike any other, and this logic is evident only when one views the following characteristics as feeding off one another, existing in a synergy that produces a unique attitude and approach to the modern, secularizing, globalizing world.

Ideological traits

The movements we call fundamentalist are both reactive and selective, and these two orientations reinforce and condition each other. Fundamentalisms react primarily to the marginalization of religion—that is, to the displacement of “true religion” by nationalist political leaders, scientific and cultural elites (feminists being a particular bête noire), modern bureaucracies and institutions, and competing religious or ethnic groups that find public space under the banner of pluralism.

The marginalization of religion, a disease spread by the West and its hubris, produces many symptoms, against which militant Islamicists, Hindu nationalists, and Christian extremists rail. One is “Westoxication,” a phrase coined by an Iranian intellectual to describe the seduction of the devout by the indulgent lifestyle of the West, offered in exchange for one’s integrity and soul. Another is the “liberation of women,” which, fundamentalists claim, turns the natural order on its head and disrupts God’s social plan, leading to divorce, sexual depravity, and crime. Other symptoms of irreligion, in addition to hedonism and paganism, are antinomianism, the disregard for God’s law, and its close cousin, relativism, the rejection of moral absolutes.

The modern assault on public religion, furthermore, is not a mere accident of history but the intended fruit of a diabolical conspiracy to uproot authentic religion. Insidiously, fundamentalists warn, the disease infects even those previously within the domain of Islam, the kingdom of Christ, the people of Israel, the Hindu nation: one can no longer trust one’s own co-religionist. Thus, the Sunni ideologue Sayyid Qutb warned darkly of the descent of jahiliyya(the era of paganism reminiscent of the time before the Prophet); the Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell accused fellow born-again evangelist Billy Graham of being “the most dangerous man in America,” owing to Graham’s functional endorsement of U.S. religious pluralism (he appeared on platforms with rabbis, priests, and mainstream Protestants); and the Jewish mystic Rabbi Kook, forefather of Gush Emunim, spread the doctrine that secular Zionists had lost touch with their inner Jewish identity and needed to be awakened to their true destiny.

When fundamentalists react to the marginalization of religion, they do so as quintessentially modern people. They are not the Amish, seeking a cultural return to premodern purity, or restorationists, hoping to rebuild the lost kingdom or return to the golden age. Although their rhetoric might pine for the pristine moment of origin or the apotheosis of the Davidic kingdom or Christendom or Islamic civilization, the fundamentalists are looking ahead, not backward. Educated and formed epistemologically under the banner of technoscientific modernity, most “middle managers” of fundamentalist movements are engineers, software experts, medical technicians, soldiers, politicians, teachers, and bureaucrats. They are pragmatists of the soul. Few are astrophysicists or speculative philosophers. Stinger missiles, modern media, airliners, and cyberspace are their milieu. They have little patience and no time for the ambiguities of the vast, multivalent religious tradition.

Given their emergence from the heart of secular modernity, these would-be defenders of traditional religion approach the scriptures and traditions as an architect reads a blueprint or an engineer scans his toolbox: they plumb the sacred sources for the instruments appropriate to the task. By this habit, they reveal themselves to be modern, not traditional. In competition with the Westoxicated moderns, the fundamentalists select, mix and match, recombine, innovate, create, build. They grow impatient and angry with mere traditionalists, who insist on disciplining themselves to the tradition as an organic, mysterious, nonlinear, irreducible, life-giving whole. There is no time for such luxuries, such refinements. As the fundamentalists implore, we are at war; our souls, as well as our lives, depend on swift and powerful retaliation. This is urgent!

And so the mode of reaction to the marginalization of religion is, ironically, fundamentally modern, instrumental, rational—and manipulative of the religious tradition.

And yet fundamentalists, whether vaguely or explicitly aware of the compromises they are compelled to make, practice selective retrieval not only of aspects of secular modernity but also of the host religion. From the religious sensibility, they choose the elements most resistant to relativism, pluralism, and other concomitants of secular modernity that work to reduce the autonomy and hegemony of the religious. Hence fundamentalists embrace absolutismand dualism as tactics of resistance and as justification for extremism in the service of a sacred cause.

In an attempt to protect the holy book or hallowed tradition from the depredations of historical, literary, and scientific criticism—that is, from criteria of validity and ways of knowing that deny the transcendence of the sacred—fundamentalist leaders claim inerrancy and infallibility for their religious knowledge. The truth revealed in scriptures and hallowed traditions is neither contingent nor variable but absolute. To underscore the transrational (and thus counter-modern) nature of absolute truth, each movement selects from its host religion certain scandalous doctrines (i.e., beliefs not easily reconcilable to scientific rationality, such as the imminent return of the Hidden Imam, the literal virgin birth of Christ, the divinity of the Lord Ram, the coming of the Messiah to restore and rule “the Whole Land of Israel”). These “supernatural dicta” they embellish, reify, and politicize.

The confession of literal belief in these hard-to-swallow “fundamentals” sets the self-described true believers apart from the Westoxicated masses. Moreover, it marks them as members of a sacred remnant, an elect tribe commissioned to defend the sacred against an array of “reprobate,” “fallen,” and “polluted” coreligionists—and against the forces of evil that have corrupted the religious community. This dualist or Manichean worldview valorizes the children of light, in stark contrast with the children of darkness, and reinforces the fundamentalists’ conviction that they are specially chosen by God to withstand the forces of irreligion.

Yet a reliance on absolutism and dualism as a mode of selective reaction to the marginalization of religion is not enough. Fundamentalist leaders typically are drawn toward extremism, that is, toward extralegal, often violent measures to realize a meaningful victory over their enemies. But they have a recruiting problem, for their pool of potential disciples is drawn not only from the religiously illiterate and untutored or drifting youth but more centrally from conservative and orthodox believers—people who are familiar with their scriptures, embrace the tradition in its complexity, and recognize that it enjoins compassion and mercy toward others, not intolerance, hatred, and violence. Theoretically, at least, violence and retaliation are not the only strategies for resisting evil. Separatism or passive resistance might suffice to withstand the encroachments of the world. Guerrilla war, terrorism, and the killing of innocents seem a breathtakingly severe and indeed unorthodox reaction.

This is why millennialism is the ideological characteristic that stands at the heart of the religious logic of fundamentalism. By the single term “millennialism,” TFP means to include the full array of doctrines, myths, and precepts embedded in the history and religious imagination of the major religious traditions of the world. Certainly, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all anticipate a dramatic moment in time, or beyond time, in which God will bring history to a just (and often bloody) culmination. In certain religious communities, such as Shi’ite Islam or Evangelical Protestant Christianity, this expectation is highly pronounced and developed. (Indeed, the term “millennialism” refers to the prophesied 1000-year reign of Christ, following his return in glory, to defeat the Antichrist.) What is striking, however, is the recent retrieval of “millennial” (or messianic or apocalyptic or eschatological) themes, images, and myths by “fundamentalists” from religious communities with a muted or underdeveloped strain of “end times” thought.5

How does this retrieval and embellishment of apocalyptic or millennial themes function within fundamentalist movements that seek recruits from among their orthodox coreligionists? Leaders seeking to form cadres for jihad or crusade or anti-Muslim (or anti-Jewish, etc.) riots must convince the religiously literate fellow believer that violence is justified in religious terms. Luckily for them, most scriptures and traditions contain ambiguities and exceptions, including what might be called “emergency clauses.” Thus, the Granth Sahib, the holy book and living guru of the Sikhs, repeatedly enjoins forgiveness, compassion, and love toward enemies. It does, however, also contain an injunction calling believers to arms, if necessary, if the Sikh religion itself is threatened with extinction—a passage put to use by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the Sikh militant who cut a swath of terror through the Punjab in the early 1980s. Such “emergency clauses” can also be found in the Qur’an, the Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament. And what better “emergency” than the advent of the predicted “dark age” or reign of evil that precedes the coming of the Messiah, the return of the Mahdi, the vindication of the righteous at God’s hands?

The fundamentalist invocation of “millennialism,” in short, strives to convince believers that they are engaged not merely in a mundane struggle for territory or political power or financial gain but in a cosmic war, a battle for the soul and for the future of humanity. In such a context, violence is not only permissible; it is obligatory.


The organizational traits of fundamentalist movements reflect and reinforce their ideological dynamics. As in any social group, ideology, organization, and behavior must cohere to create a way of life, or culture. A fundamentalist movement takes original shape as an enclave, a community set apart from the larger society and concerned with maintaining boundaries to prevent its members from deserting. Moral persuasion is the glue that keeps the enclave together as a social group. Enhancing the effectiveness of moral suasion are ideological claims such as the doctrine that the enclave members are elect, chosen, set apart from the fallen world (i.e., “dualism”) and practical rewards such as social or economic benefits (e.g., deferment from the army for Haredi Jews in Israel, employment of women by the Baptist church as teachers, the granting of loans by Islamic banks, etc.). Relations within the enclave tend to be egalitarian, despite functional differentiation.

As the fundamentalist movement grows, however, the enclave may become a movement, or a network of enclaves, and eventually, it may establish permanent institutional presence in the larger society (through the founding of schools, libraries, health-care clinics, political parties). As the movement grows from enclave to network to institutional presence, the reactive and exclusivist oppositional stance of “pure” fundamentalism becomes more difficult to sustain; that is, the enclave’s boundaries become porous, the organization more complex, the internal pluralism of the movement more difficult to manage without making the compromises that are the heart of politics. In this sense, fundamentalism becomes less stable as a religious mode as it becomes more successful in winning recruits and making alliances.6

Unlike relations among the rank and file, leadership of the fundamentalist movement or organization is hierarchical. It is also charismatic, authoritarian, and patriarchal. The founder is usually possessed of charisma and spiritual/religious virtuosity, and succession at his death often precipitates a crisis in authority. In any case, leaders atop the pyramid are authoritarian, an organizational tendency that is reinforced by the opposition to relativism and critical attitudes toward religious truth (“absolutism”). In movements that are founded by women, males eventually assume central positions of authority. (Some scholars argue that fundamentalisms are best understood as patriarchal protest movements against feminism.)

The evolution of the enclave into a network (and perhaps a regional or transnational network) requires a more complex organizational structure (e.g., separate wings or divisions for finance, recruiting, ideology, arms) and multiple leaders. Some instincts of the enclave survive the transition to more complicated organizational structures, however, including the emphasis on differentiating the members of the movement from outsiders, including coreligionists. Accordingly, fundamentalism as a religious mode entails the requirement of distinctive behavioral codes such as special dress, dietary, and sexual restrictions and obligations. In itself, this means of differentiating believers from nonbelievers is not a departure from traditional, time-honored religious practice. But in keeping with their reactive and militant attitude toward even their own co-religionists, the self-anointed true believers practice an exaggerated and chauvinistic form of the host religion (e.g., larger than average kippahs for Gush extremists or supervised dating for Christian students at Bob Jones University).

Because the fundamentalists believe themselves to be engaged in a cosmic war against evil, in other words, only a double dose of “strong religion” will suffice. As the religious logic outlined above indicates, they are modern warriors, and they are happy to select and retrieve organizational features from modern ideological movements that they admire (e.g., fascism) but that failed because these predecessors were insufficiently religious.


What have we learned in the decade since the major research of TFP was completed? Because fundamentalist movements are moving targets, ever adapting to changing circumstances and to their own internal pressures and experiences, one fruitful line of analysis in answering this question is to revise the findings based on how certain movements (e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood, the Christian Right, Gush Emunim, the Hindu RSS) have evolved. A related strategy is to consider how a revised appreciation of the dynamics of the secular alters our descriptions and explanations of “fundamentalism.”

The interaction and mutual construction of “the religious” and “the secular” are clearer to us than ever before, and this enhanced understanding has consequences for how we comprehend religion. Rather than stipulate “antisecularism” as a marker of fundamentalist groups, for example, it now seems more accurate to depict the fundamentalist mode of religiosity as being critically engaged with secularism. Fundamentalisms, like all other modern movements, unfold and evolve, react and select within “the immanent frame” of awareness, perception, and knowledge that characterizes secular humanism. Even as they strive to transform certain attitudes and values associated with secular humanism, while rejecting others, the fundamentalists are inscribed within the discourse of immanence. In this process of creative adaptation to and attempted transformation of exclusive humanism, the true believers also strive self-consciously to sustain and in some cases retrieve through religious discipline the experience and sense of “fullness” that Jewish, Christian, and Muslim groups and individuals identify as an encounter with the living God.

If, for the moment, we retain the term “fundamentalism” and understand fundamentalists in this way, as sharing a concern to refashion the relationship between the secular and the religious that obtains in cosmopolitan societies, how might this revised account bear on our attempt to identify and parse the meanings of secularism in the contemporary world? And how best to incorporate into the revised understanding of fundamentalism the relevant insights from the recent debates on globalization and the intensified direct contact between peoples and cultures that it entails? What assumptions (and culturally conditioned worldviews) brought to the earlier studies of fundamentalism must be refined or jettisoned in light of our studies of secularism in its various forms and dynamics? Finally, in light of the severe conceptual and methodological problems associated with employing a comparative construct such as “fundamentalism,” why retain the term (or a cognate) at all?


First, to the extent that scholars exoticized religion in the fundamentalist mode (or, worse, religion in general) by positing dynamics of human behavior and belief unique to “the religious,” such characterizations must be refined or withdrawn. The assumption standing behind this “other-ing” of religious believers and practitioners seemed to be that people of deeply held faith, and certainly those possessed of “fundamentalist fervor,” inhabit a radically different universe of meaning and morality from secular or “moderately religious” people. An unfortunate implication of this move is that religious people are inherently inclined toward acts beyond the pale of ordinary, civilized human behavior, including indiscriminate violence and other forms of terrorism.

Greater effort must be given to reducing the conceptual distance between deeply religious actors and other players in international politics and on the world stage. In his chapter for this book, Craig Calhoun offers useful suggestions for filling in the spaces along the continuum of orientations toward reality described by Charles Taylor as “immanence” and “transcendence.” Human beings obviously have the capacity, as Calhoun notes, for acts of self-transcendence that do not require the practice of religion or belief in God (e.g., self-sacrifice in a cause greater than oneself, “militant” devotion to a higher good, participation in projects dedicated to transforming history beyond one’s lifetime, etc.). The point is not that people whose self-understanding and personal and political commitments are shaped by belief in a transcendent reality or being are no different from others as a result of that orientation and the distinctive rituals and religious practices that reinforce and make it plausible to them. The point, rather, is that they are not thereby exempted from the kinds of considerations, calculations, anxieties, and sense of existential autonomy that accompany what Taylor calls the experience of “the buffered self.” Those religious actors who might properly be called fundamentalists cannot be said to be in the grip of an enchanted world any more than others who are participating actively in the ongoing construction of modern societies. In fact, the decision of fundamentalists to be bound by strict rules of religious law or by in-group dynamics and obligations is in part a response to dissatisfaction with the empty experience of the disembedded self.7

Similarly, it will not do to assume a standard model of the rational, enlightened, educated modern person, against which the fundamentalist can be neatly juxtaposed. In part, given its vintage, too few of the case studies and analytical essays included in TFP situated their accounts of religious—and secular—agency in the context of what has been learned regarding the depth and range of cultural, social, and epistemological diversity, through recent advances in such fields of inquiry as cultural anthropology, comparative sociology, and subaltern studies. Eisenstadt’s concept of “multiple modernities” gains added resonance when the range of human self-understandings, values, and social constructions of reality is on full display. Even less persuasive is the “other-ing” of the “religious extremist” in this cognitive setting. In addition, while the best books and essays on fundamentalism, religious nationalism, and political religions more broadly demonstrate familiarity with primary sources and first-person accounts, too little attention was given to the diversity of individual profiles and histories that render absurd any kind of schematic portrait of “the fundamentalist” as an ideal type.


Having identified major weaknesses in the scholarly literature on “fundamentalism,” not least the comprehensive use of the term, often with pejorative connotations, it is now time to stand my ground, as it were. “Fundamentalism,” by whatever name, does signify a late-modern mode of religiosity—a religious public presence—the underlying logic of which, though not the particular political, social, or cultural expressions, is shared by individuals, movements, groups, and political parties that claim adherence to a religious tradition and are dedicated to defending that tradition from marginalization, erosion, privatization, and decline—that is, from the hard edge of secularism in its most antireligious form. In this sense, “fundamentalism” is properly understood as a subset and instance of the more inclusive category “public religion.”

The literature on fundamentalism is vast and self-contradictory at points, including within TFP itself. But the project did develop a core notion of fundamentalism as a specific religious logic, summarized above in the sections on ideological and organizational dynamics. Less clear in the core analysis was the awareness that this logic itself is evolving and shifting as fundamentalists negotiate secularity and religious plurality in their own lives and in the societies in which they live and to which they have migrated.8 Within fluid, evolving, and increasingly transnational movements/organizations such as Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut Tahrir, the Gush Emunim, the “hard Evangelical” Christian right (including the Christian Reconstructionists), and the Hindu RSS, one is challenged to keep track of the ongoing internal debates (e.g., over the use of violence, the relationship between political and military wings, the timing and targets of propaganda campaigns or public demonstrations, etc.); the diversity of interpretations of texts and traditions (e.g., concerning the religious status of the nation or homeland, or the theoretical as well as functional place of end-times or eschatological expectation in the movement worldview); disagreements regarding practical issues, as well as principles of operation (e.g., how to obtain political goals, what alliances to form and when, how recruiting is to be conducted); and actual changing behaviors (e.g., the development of new religious NGOs affiliated with or supported by the group, the evolution of political parties and their positions on questions such as participatory self-governance, the building of seemingly unlikely coalitions). Such “surprises” sprung by fundamentalisms are underreported but should no longer come as surprises.

As a way of entering the fundamentalist logic, we might formulate the basic question or dilemma confronting these otherwise incomparable groups in terms taken from our discussion of the multiple modes of secularism unfolding in the late-modern world. Like everyone on the planet, religious actors face a globalizing milieu characterized by an array of competing forces, each possessed of its own value systems, each vying for public space, and some for hegemony, through the amassing of resources and political capital. Familiar boundaries and “givens”—geographical, religious, cultural, economic—seem to be eroding or reconfiguring more rapidly than at any time in history. To some, globalization appears to be an economic project first and foremost and a project by and for elites, who are also widely perceived as secularized and committed to material development and little else. The right of nation-states to a monopoly on legal violence seems to go uncontested, long after weapons of mass destruction have been placed in their hands and used irresponsibly or immorally. Within this global context, in which homogenization and flattening of values can be seen as concomitant with secularism in a form virulently hostile to religion, how are people committed to transcendence, to the priority of the spiritual and religiously moral, to ensure continuity with the “traditional” religious past? How best to contest the meanings of core concepts of cosmopolitan discourse, such as “freedom,” “development,” “human rights,” and the like?

Note that the last question crucially presupposes engagement with the cosmopolitan project “from within.” The literature on fundamentalisms has certainly grown more sophisticated on this question of locating fundamentalists socially. Several essays in TFP, for example, underscore the “secular modern” profile of the membership core of fundamentalist movements—medical technicians, software designers, biologists, chemists, career politicians, and other mid-level techno-bureaucrats at home in the domain of applied science and, more recently, cyberspace. Sharpening the profile of fundamentalists as “the person next door, your professional colleague,” has been a project of some particularly savvy members of the media. Notwithstanding the cartoons of bin Laden in his cave or other depictions of Muslim fundamentalists, in particular, as decidedly uncosmopolitan, it is now less typical to read or hear that the young men (and women) recruited into fundamentalist movements hail from impoverished backgrounds and represent “the poorest of the poor.” More widely available are descriptions of “relatively deprived” or socially alienated engineers, computer-software experts, medical technicians, and mid-level bureaucrats. The fundamentalist profile has sharpened to include Christian millionaires in Dallas, Orlando, and Oklahoma City; former IDF soldiers and Jewish mothers settled in the West Bank; middle-class Hindu women who entered the ranks of the VHP in the mid-1990s in order “to move out of their homebound existence, to reclaim public spaces and even to acquire a political identity [that] gives them access to serious intellectual cogitation”; and displaced young Muslim professionals and technocrats, isolated in London or ghettoized in Paris.9 This more nuanced composite profile underscores the fact that the contest, in the minds of the so-called fundamentalists, is not between the religious and the secular but between different formulas for their interdependence and coexistence in a rapidly modernizing world.

The fundamentalist logic of reaction to the challenges of this milieu through selective appropriation of elements of “traditional religion,” on the one hand, and “secular modernity” (driven by techno-scientific, instrumental reason), on the other, does not in itself set these religious activists apart from other modern people attempting to create a workable synthesis of these elements. We come closer to a distinctive fundamentalist logic when we acknowledge the decisive presence of the religious imagination—incorporating a “passion for the infinite,” the striving toward “fullness,” the preoccupation with matters of “ultimate concern.” How to inhabit the buffered self without loosening or dissolving ties of solidarity with the umma?

This is not a question faced only by so-called fundamentalists, of course.

Previously, however, the typical manifestations of the fundamentalist approach to prioritizing the religious imaginary were described in largely negative terms, as “absolutism” (both epistemological and political), “dualism” (sharp, buffered boundaries between the elect and the reprobate), and “millennialism” (an end-times expectation that can justify the suspension of “ordinary time” ethics and legitimize extraordinary acts such as the killing of innocents). Given the fluidity of these movements as they interact across geographical, cultural, and denominational boundaries, the question arises about the accuracy of this description. Fundamentally, does the category of fundamentalism itself melt away under the pressures of globalization, at least if it is understood as a militant reaction to the aggression and encroachments of secular modernity?

In sum, fundamentalists, like other religious and secular thinkers, are engaged in negotiating the boundaries between and interpenetration of the religious and the secular. To cast them into the outer darkness, where “Here be Monsters,” is to reveal a basic and in some cases willful misconstrual.


The study of fundamentalist political parties, like that of religious politics in general, has been held hostage to wrong-headed assumptions fueled by the secular/religious binary (critiqued in chapters by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Cecelia Lynch in this book). As a result, fundamentalist politicians and political parties are routinely underestimated and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to develop creative responses overlooked. Indeed, the application of the term “fundamentalist” to religious parties has led analysts to apply rigid stereotypes based on the assumption that fundamentalism and democracy are incompatible; thus, we are told, fundamentalists participate in democratic processes only for the purpose of taking power and then restricting or undermining democracy; fundamentalists are incapable of building or unwilling to build coalitions across religious/secular barriers; women can have no leadership role in fundamentalist power structures or social programs; and so on. Such stereotypes contain an element of truth only to the extent that the term “fundamentalism” is employed as typology, or broad political category, within which a dizzying array of actors could be made to fit. In such efforts, that is, the term is made so encompassing as to be rendered virtually meaningless. Despite heroic attempts by some talented political scientists and sociologists to construct fundamentalism as an overarching political category comprehending a variety of discrete religiopolitical movements and political parties from disparate settings, it makes little empirical sense to defend a category that could include the Taliban, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the Islamic Salvation Front of Algeria, and the Justice and Development Party of Turkey, to name just some of the Islamic candidates.10

Would it be more accurate to cluster together and label “fundamentalist” those religious parties that do, in fact, discriminate systematically and in principle against women, reject democracy out of hand as a Western imposition, and pursue a theocratic regime? To do so would be both to narrow and to expand the meaning of the term, as I have developed it above (i.e., as a mode of religious presence that critically engages secularisms, rejecting some forms and modifying or attempting to transform others) in unhelpful ways. The Islamic Republic of Iran may or may not belong in such a category, though its political and religious leaders certainly qualify as “fundamentalist” in my version of the phenomenon. No, the reality seems to be quite different, namely, that religious actors who participate in the fundamentalists’ project to remake secularity do so from a variety of political perspectives and platforms ranging across a continuum from “democracy, liberty, and progress” to “theocracy, tyranny, and subservience to illegitimate authority,” as Elizabeth Shakman Hurd describes the standard oppositional relation in which secular and religious actors typically are interpreted.

The truth is that neither a conventional religious perspective nor a conventional secular perspective adequately comprehends the dynamism of “fundamentalist politics.” The Shi’ite cases—Iran, the different approaches of leaders such as Moktar Al-Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Iraq, the evolution of Lebanon’s Hezbollah over the last two decades—are illustrative of the internal pluralism and shifting political configurations, alliances, and ideologies of religious politics more generally. The ongoing self-creation of fundamentalist parties and politicians appeared as a theme of some of the more prescient essays in TFP. Acute awareness of the way in which hegemonic discourses operate, and of the attempt of some states to frame as deviant a range of actors, including religiously inspired political parties and movements of opposition or resistance, informed the most provocative essays. This is true, for example, of Abdulaziz Sachedina’s indictment of the Western framing of Iranian Shi’ite “fundamentalism” as an awkward imitation of the West, on one hand, and a betrayal of “authentic,” “quietist” Shi’ism, on the other. Sachedina responded with eloquent repudiation of any attempts to interpret Shi’ite politics without sustained reference to the distinctive features of collective Shi’ite religious experience. The experiences of persecution, martyrdom, and constant witness to the unity of God within the context of the challenges of syncretism and internal pluralism—all these and more, he argues, constitute the background to the efforts of Iranian leaders to fashion a secular/religious politics that can compete on its own terms with the West.11

Significantly, religious critics of fundamentalism, including some operating within fundamentalist movements or organizations, express a feeling of unease about the risks inherent in pursuing coercive power, in “fighting fire with fire.” And yet—the other horn of the dilemma—the avoidance of politics is not feasible, nor is the flight from “the secularizing world” possible. The retreat to the desert, to the unmarked terrain of otherworldly contemplation, is difficult these days, even for the Amish; it is hardly the solution for the engineer and the computer programmer. Nor is it desirable. The current generation of fundamentalists is responding to the marginalization of religion, yes, but the immediate provocation is their abiding sense of being the victims of discrimination: they are entitled to the good things of the developed world, they are prepared to make competent use of them, they are inheritors of the scriptural promise of abundance and prosperity, but they are unfairly held back because of their religion (or perceived religion)—the last acceptable prejudice in an increasingly irreligious, Westernized world.

Whatever their religious persuasion, these rebels of the professional class share the conviction that the Enlightenment model of secularization is woefully inadequate, owing in large part to its marginalization of religion and disrespect for God’s law. Their prescribed remedy is a rerouting of medical and scientific expertise, an ethically and spiritually guided redeployment of modernity’s material blessings toward the establishment of a morally upright society governed by divine law.12

The politicization of religion in competition with what Taylor calls “exclusive humanism” entails the identification and practice of religion as a means of transforming this world, and also saving the religious remnants within it, through exercising political power, if not political hegemony. In the more radical or revolutionary movements, control of the state is sought in the expectation that such control would make possible the enforcement of orthodoxy and the regularization of the young professionals and middle-class women and men who have become fellow travelers, often for mixed reasons (i.e., not only to advance orthodox religion, per se). The fear and envy of the threatening forms of secularism—of the entity lurking outside the increasingly porous walls of the enclave—lure the fundamentalist into trying to harness its awesome power. The encompassing modern nation-state, perceived as bent on ushering religion from the public square, is perhaps the most feared creature in the fundamentalist imaginary. How to protect against that?

As many religious actors have realized, however, the fundamentalists’ attempt to co-opt the secularists is fraught with risk. The strategy raises anxiety even among its practitioners, who may or may not openly acknowledge their fear that the result will be the dilution of the religious imagination itself. Hence the ratcheting up of aggressive, triumphal God-talk among some of the movements and groups deeply engaged in negotiating with the secular “other.” The Israeli sociologist Gideon Aran describes the fundamentalist group he knows best, Gush Emunim, as “a religious phenomenon” but hastens to add: “True, by now [the early 1990s], the movement’s politics have virtually assumed a life of their own, complete with a clear national ideology devoid of celestial theological premises.” In an attempt to parse this seeming contradiction, he goes on to explain that “rather than religious politics, Gush Emunim represents a political religion.”13

The leaders of Gush Emunim, Aran notes, were duly wary of the possible consequences of politicizing Judaism: “The harnessing of secular Israelis to political and operational activism was never conceived as more than a phase, and means, on the road to returning Jews to the religious fold.” As the process unfolded and the Gush internalized the secular calculations and rhythms of Israeli politics, however, they were forced to justify their program—and their acknowledgment that their membership contained no more than a dozen “penitent Jews”—with a new, esoteric doctrine: the inner sanctity of the politics of redemption (of the Land and People of Israel). Aran describes their “bold interpretation of Judaism which surpasses the religious-secular dichotomy.” It entailed the pseudo-mystical assertion that Zionist fundamentalist victories in the political arena and on the battlefield would effect a spiritual awakening among their secular Jewish allies, revealing their “hidden saintliness.” Flush with worldly success, the previously secular Zionists, the Gush theologians predicted, “will speedily begin to observe Torah rules.”14

This example calls to our attention the fact that those called fundamentalists are faced with challenges not unlike those posed to other individuals and communities living within “the immanent frame”—that is, the situation constituted by “the buffered identity of the disciplined individual [moving] in a constructed social space, where instrumental rationality is a key value and time is pervasively secular.” How is meaning discovered or constructed within such a milieu? Furiously religious as a matter of choice, the fundamentalists embrace a disciplined commitment to staying religious as they confront this commanding question of the age. But this zeal does not relieve fundamentalists from the burden of negotiating both the hazards and the undeniable advantages of secular modernity. The attractions of the latter, not merely the evils of the former, are well documented in materials they produced. The benefits of “soft” secularity include greater levels of personal security and prosperity, legal protection of rights (including the right to convert—free speech—and to be converted), and a culture of tolerance that provides space for growth of the movement. In the face of the dual promise of secular modernity, the fundamentalists make palpable their commitment to live, over against the grain, as if the transcendent were not only real but vividly alive to their every decision and act. This insistence itself is the substance of their deliberate response to the challenge.

Indeed, it is precisely the concentrated, even defiant resolve to “choose transcendence” despite the lure of exclusive humanism—in Taylor’s terms, to spin the immanent frame in the direction of openness to something beyond—that makes the fundamentalist encounter with secularity a particularly promising window on our age. We may find powerfully instructive the fate of their simultaneous insistence on the radical otherness of the transcendent and their decision to try to bend the world to the will of the divine through the application of instrumental rationality within the confines of secular time. Certainly, it is the extreme case that sheds light on what is and is not possible.

Conclusion: What’s in a Name?

Adequately contextualized accounts of religious movements will situate militant religious actors within the contemporary milieu of “multiple modernities” that are constantly being contested and negotiated. The heightened differentiation of functions and types of actors within fundamentalist movements, as well as the diversity of types of such movements (diversity of political goals, cultural projects, outreach, target audiences, etc.), is one of the consequences of the extension of the processes of globalization and increased cross-cultural and transnational migration. Pinning down fundamentalisms, like other social movements, is trickier than ever.

Among those religious movements caught up in the processes of globalization, the fundamentalists are those for whom the growing secular milieu is experienced not as fluid and variegated but as a homogenizing juggernaut. The marginalization of religion, the most aggressive fundamentalists suspect, is not an accident of history but the inevitable consequence of the willful abandonment of faith in a transcendent reality that is in control of history and individual destiny. The replacement of that transcendent orientation by an exclusive humanism that believes, wrongly and tragically, that human fulfillment and flourishing can be achieved within an immanent frame and on materialist terms is nothing less than a conspiracy by atheists, who control the financial and political institutions of the world and seek to discredit religion, drive it from the public sphere, and doom it to the slow death of privatization. In this context of understanding, the struggle of the self-anointed true believers to retain the “passion for the infinite,” to place themselves under the judgment and governance of the transcendent, and yet also to do whatever is possible to reverse the progress of secularization in its most virulent (i.e., God-denying) form is both poignant and arresting and deserves to be appreciated in its full complexity.15

The animus against the term “fundamentalism” in scholarly circles is understandably high. Its pejorative connotations, which obscure the richness of the phenomenon to which it is intended to point, are unmistakable. Indeed, the definition of the phenomenon that I have provided in this chapter, extracted and developed from the core of TFP, jettisons many of the elements of most standard definitions. The phenomenon may therefore deserve a different name.16 In any case, it is foolish to assume that if the term “fundamentalism” is rejected, another label will not arise to take its place. This is because, like “secularism,” “modernism,” “liberalism,” and other messy, unmanageable kitchen-sink terms that endure in the lexicon, “fundamentalism” points, however imperfectly, to a social reality that people encounter every day.

Whatever label we employ, it must capture the complexity of this mode of modern religiosity, which finds itself trapped in a dilemma. On the one hand, the dominant form of secularism in the world, that which originated with the European Enlightenment and identified with the modern West, and especially with the United States “superpower,” is perceived as mortally threatening to traditional and still closely held forms of religious belief, practice, and community. Thus, there is a clear logic to the militant, reactive, selective, Manichean, absolutist, “millennialist” responses of the “true believers” from several religious traditions who are currently mobilized in pursuit of political power, including control of the state in some cases.

These religious actors are drawn to power and are defined in large part by their attempt to acquire it. On the other hand, these so-called fundamentalists are increasingly integrated into the institutions, practices, and processes of secular modernity, consumers of its wares and, not least, browsers and bricolage builders in the open marketplace of religious ideas, practices, and sensibilities imported via the pluralism that accompanies modernization. The engineers, office managers, municipal bureaucrats, teachers, scientists, medical technicians, and middle-class working mothers who form the ranks of fundamentalist movements have internalized the habits of mind enjoined by secular modernity. Religious virtuosi and charismatic preachers, presumably less taken by the flux of material culture, are supposed to keep the movements honest, that is, to train at least one eye on the heavens, but they must also abide a new class of lay religious technocrats who read sacred scriptures the way an engineer reads a blueprint.

Rather than posit a straightforward, to-the-death opposition between the religious and the secular in fundamentalism, then, it is more accurate—that is, truer to the dynamics of religion itself within a secular age—to understand fundamentalism as a mode of late-modern religiosity informed, decisively, by secularity. Going beyond the extant literature on fundamentalism, one would argue in this vein that the fundamentalist dance with secularity is neither merely a reaction against the secularizing trends of the age nor even an awkward mimesis of the secular enemy.

Instead, the late-modern religious mode known (previously?) as fundamentalism has increasingly become a default mode for those who fear the loss of the sacred. This religious mode is defined by an intentional appropriation of constitutive elements and dynamics of the secular. The appropriation is sometimes awkward, sometimes shrewd, but consistently erosive of premodern, “traditional” religious sensibilities. In this fact lies the poignant irony at the heart of “fundamentalism.”


1. From 1988 to 1995, TFP held fifteen international meetings at which approximately 120 scholars from eighteen nations gave papers or formal responses; published five volumes of essays that amounted to more than 3700 printed pages, and generated dozens of spin-off books and articles; and cooperated in the production of a three-part television documentary aired on PBS and a seven-part radio series broadcast on NPR. See the volumes edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby and published by University of Chicago Press: Fundamentalisms Observed (1991), Fundamentalisms and the State: Remaking Politics, Economies and Militance (1993), Fundamentalisms and Society: Remaking the Family, the Sciences and the Media (1993), Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements (1994), and Fundamentalisms Comprehended (1995).

2. Majid Tehranian, “Fundamentalist Impact in Education and the Media: An Overview,” in Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds., Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family and Education(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 313.

3. The project was criticized for even attempting such comparisons, to which Marty responded by quoting Marc Bloch on the necessity and inevitability of drawing structured comparisons if scholars are to make sense of complex cross-cultural phenomena. See Martin E. Marty, “Fundamentalism as a Social Phenomenon,” Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 42 (November 1988): 15-29.

4. Gabriel A. Almond, R. Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan, Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

5. Barbara Freyer Stowasser, “A Time to Reap,” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 34, no. 1 (Summer 2000): 1-13.

6. Emmanuel Sivan, “The Enclave Culture,” in Almond, Appleby, and Sivan, Strong Religion, 1-89.

7. A surprising number of Americans have failed to internalize the awareness that fundamentalists are not uneducated or undereducated “yokels,” as H. L. Mencken put it in 1925, or even “anti-intellectual and simplistic,” as the president of Georgetown University put it in 1981. Mencken went on to call his Christian adversaries “half-wits,” “hillbillies,” “anthropoid rabble,” and “morons,” among other choice compliments. See H. L. Mencken, Prejudices: Fifth Series, quoted in James Davidson Hunter, Culture Wars (Basic Books, 1991), 142. Even the ardent opponents of creationism and intelligent-design theory have conceded, if only by dint of reviewing their books and painstakingly pointing out the flaws in their evidence and logic, that the fundamentalist thinkers are, indeed, thinkers who are fluent in contemporary scientific discourse and theory, however twisted their divinely guided, biblically inspired logic might be. See H. Allen Orr, “A Religion for Darwinians?” New York Review of Books 54, no. 13 (August 16, 2007): 33-35.

8. Earlier attempts to chart the change in fundamentalists’ ideologies and organizational structures over time are found in Marty and Appleby, eds., Accounting for Fundamentalisms, and the discussions of shifting fundamentalist priorities and the conditions under which decisions are taken by leadership (“structure, chance, choice”) in Almond, Appleby, and Sivan, Strong Religion.

9. T. Sarkar, “Women’s Agency within Authoritarian Communalism: The Rashtrasevika Samiti and Ramjanmabhoomi,” in G. Pandey, ed., Hindus and Others, quoted in Christophe Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 426-427. A variation on the Muslim technocrat was Mohammed Bouyeri, the twenty-six-year-old, well-educated Moroccan-Dutchman who murdered the filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 after coming under the influence of Abou Khaled, a Takfir preacher in exile from Syria. Bouyeri joined an Islamist cell known by Dutch authorities as the Hofstad Group, where he became the house intellectual and posted ideological tracts on Web sites. Ian Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam and the Limits of Tolerance (New York: Penguin, 2006), 211-212.

10. See, for example, Said Amir Arjomand, “Unity and Diversity in Islamic Fundamentalism,” in Marty and Appleby, eds., Fundamentalisms Comprehended, 179-198; and similar efforts in Said Amir Arjomand, ed., The Political Dimensions of Religion (Stony Brook: State University of New York Press, 1993).

11. Abdulaziz Sachedina, “Shi’ite Activism in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon,” in Marty and Appleby, eds., Fundamentalisms Observed, 403-456.

12. There is copious evidence of religious and political leaders from various cultural and religious backgrounds who have blamed a host of social crises on the relegation of the sacred to the sidelines. In 1992, for example, the Sudanese lawyer Hasan Turabi, the self-proclaimed leader of the “Islamic Awakening” in the Arab world, told audiences in Washington, D.C., that the high rates of divorce, drug use, sexual promiscuity, white-collar crime, and other signs of the moral decline of the United States, which he said would be followed by a political collapse, were the direct result of the secularization of the once Christian society. Former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, an unlikely ideological ally of a Sudanese Islamist, hit the lecture circuit not long after September 11, 2001, to reinforce essentially the same message. Gingrich displayed charts and graphs intended to demonstrate his argument that the rise in divorce, teen pregnancy, white-collar crime, and illicit drug use could be traced to 1962-63, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed prayer in the public schools. Half a world away, Hindu nationalists were linking the loss of Indian territory and political hegemony to a lapse in devotion to Hindu gods, especially to the Lord Ram. In 1988, the RSS reprinted and distributed widely an article from a publication of the Jana Jagaran, a militant offshoot of the VHP. Entitled “Angry Hindu,” the article sacralized the religious nationalists’ grievances against Indian secularism and pluralism by giving voice, as it were, to the wrath of Ram: “Yes for too long I have suffered affronts in silence…. My number have dwindled. As a result, my adored motherland has been torn asunder. I have been deprived of my age-old rights over my own hearths and homes. Afghanistan, N.W.F.P., Sindh, Baluchisthan, half of Punjab, half of Bengal and a third of Kashmir—all these have been usurped from me…. My temples have been desecrated, destroyed. Their sacred stones are being trampled under the aggressor’s feet. My gods are crying. They are demanding of me for reinstatement in all their original glory…. You get my vote but you pamper those who attack me…. For you, our national life minus every bit of Hindu is secularism. In short, you want me to cease to be myself. Even the Haj pilgrims are subsidised from my money. For so long—for too long—I was lost in a deep coma…. Now I have begun to see, I have begun to hear, I have begun to understand, and I have begun to feel—what tragedies have overtaken me for my centuries-old blunder. Hereafter I will sleep no more.” Organiser, February 14, 1988, anonymous article published in the form of a pamphlet with the same title: Angry Hindu! Yes, Why Not! (New Delhi: Suruchi Prakashan, 1988). Quoted in Christophe Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement, 391. In short, the scapegoating of secularism is a familiar and time-tested trope in the fundamentalist’s rhetorical arsenal.

13. Gideon Aran, “Jewish Zionist Fundamentalism,” in Marty and Appleby, eds., Fundamentalisms Observed, 295-296.

14. Ibid., 329.

15. A poignant sense of loss felt as a result of ultra-Orthodox Judaism’s “negotiation with secular modernity” in the twentieth century is captured in Haym Soloveitchik’s description of the transition from “a culture of mimesis” to “a culture of performance.” See Haym Soloveitchik, “Migration, Acculturation and the New Role of Texts in the Haredi World,” in Marty and Appleby, eds., Accounting for Fundamentalisms, 197-235.

16. Pentecostalism, for example, is a fascinating case of the attempted reshaping of secular modernity, which would normally not be included in discussions of “fundamentalism.”