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Book Chapter

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The Blackwell Companion to Protestantism


The term "fundamentalism" has been used to describe a host of religious movements across the globe that are militantly antimodernist, aggressively patriarchal, literalist in their reading of sacred texts, and assiduous in their efforts to draw boundaries between themselves and outsiders. While "Islamic fundamentalism" has received the most attention, particularly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, scholars and journalists have also applied the term to movements within such disparate traditions as Judaism, Sikhism, and Hinduism, as well as to various Christian groups.

There are benefits to understanding fundamentalism as a global movement that grows out of deep-seated and intense opposition to (aspects of) modernity, and that is found in a wide array of religious traditions. Among other things, such an approach allows for interesting and often insightful comparative analysis. But there are problems with defining fundamentalism generically and applying it globally. Not only does such an approach not lend itself to definitional precision, it can devolve into derogatory shorthand for reactionary religious groups. As a result, and for the purposes of this chapter, it is best to understand fundamentalism where it started, as a religious movement within Protestantism.

Fundamentalism had its origins in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Anglo-American evangelicalism, and it blossomed into a full-fledged religious movement in the years immediately after World War I (see Brereton, 1990: 165-70; Carpenter, 1997: 3-12). To a great degree fundamentalism has been an American phenomenon, with its origins and greatest strength in the United States, although it has had a limited presence in Canada (although, as George Marsden has observed, it has often been "successfully propagated overseas by its vigorous missions"). While there are a multitude of evangelical connections between the United States and the remainder of the Anglo-American world, for a variety of reasons — including a greater commitment to established churches and to ecumenism — the fundamentalist movement never had the impact in England or even in Canada that it had in the USA.

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Citation information:

  • The Blackwell Companion to Protestantism. Eds. A.E. McGrath and D.C. Marks. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003


Blackwell Publishing

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Malden, MA

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