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Fundamentalisms Observed: The Fundamentalism Project, vol 1.

In this weighty tome, Martin Marty and E. Scott Appleby offer an encyclopedic introduction to the varied and tumultuous world of religious fundamentalism. Sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Fundamentalism Project will ultimately encompass six volumes on worldwide fundamentalisms, considering the matter from a variety of scholarly angles. Here in the first volume, Marty and Appleby have edited a collection of studies designed to provide introductory sketches, both "historical" and "phenomenological," of fourteen of these movements (p. x). They exercised their editorial hand with a pretty light touch, only asking their contributing scholars to accept the designation of their movements as "fundamentalistic," to write from a perspective "empathetic" to the movement considered, and to eschew technical jargon in an effort to reach the informed laity, nonspecialists but interested readers. In this agenda, the authors are more than successful; it would be hard to imagine a more comprehensive introduction to such a complex phenomenon.

After a brief presentation of underlying definitions and purposes, the reader encounters a wide array of fundamentalist movements. We move from opening presentations on Protestant and Catholic fundamentalisms in North and South America to a consideration of two combative Jewish movements in Israel. Scholars examine movements of Islamic fundamentalism in five different locales in South Asia and the Middle and Far Easts, along with fundamentalistic strains in Hinduism, the Sikh religious tradition, and Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Thailand. Finally, we also receive examinations of the "Confucian Revival in Industrial East Asia," and of a "political fundamentalism" in Japan. At the same time, a number of commonalities appear between many of these disparate movements. While emerging from different traditions and historical circumstances, with different holy books and sources, all share some underlying "family resemblances" the editors carefully underscore in their conclusion.

Marty and Appleby also seemed to have laid out these chapters in a way to to highlight similarities, and to gently introduce readers to what may appear as increasingly strange material. They begin with Nancy Ammerman's fine presentation of Protestant fundamentalism in North America, an area which is probably more familiar to most readers. This then serves as a clear point of reference for a number of ensuing studies. Writing about "Roman Catholic Traditionalism and Activist Conservatism in the United States," William Dinges and James Hitchcock, for example, find a good deal of common ground with the Protestant variety, as does Pablo Dieros's consideration of Protestant fundamentalism in Latin America, a religious movement which is a direct derivative of its North American counterpart. Scholars of more dissimilar movements find this a useful paradigm as well. Gideon Aran, for instance, labels Israeli fundamentalists as "a kind of |born-again Jews,'" (p. 306) while Ted Gold offers a number of comparative points with US fundamentalism in his survey of "Organized Hinduisms" (pp.575-576).

Altogether, the accounts we receive are absorbing. Here are religious traditionalists fighting back, under God (or, in the case of Buddhism or Confucianism, "under the signs of some transcendent reference" [p. x]), against a number of precisely defined and villainous enemies. These militants battle, usually in the realm of civil polity, on behalf of a religious tradition and way of life they see as under attack. As their principal resources in this desperate struggle, they selectively mobilize "real or presumed pasts" (p. ix) in order to maintain their identities and to shape the futures of their societies. Certainly these articles loom as rich resources for students of religion, contemporary politics, and international affairs. Here I will confine my comments to their utility for social historians.

Considered as history, these accounts demand some qualification. A few of these movements are of such recent origin that their analysts necessarily focus the bulk of their diagnosis on contemporary affairs. In his analysis of Israeli ultra-Zionists, for example, Aran cannot take his survey much earlier than the Six Day War in 1966. Similarly, in his examination on the Dakwah groups of Malaysian Islamic fundamentalism, springing into being in the 1970's, Manning Nash's historical focus is likewise somewhat limited. Moreover, given the ultimate aim of the entire project at policy considerations (p. xiii), often the authors delve into a detailed and intricate analysis of the impact of these religious movements on the contemporary politics of their societies.

These minor caveats aside, social historians should find this book immensely rewarding. These studies appear profoundly relevant in a broad conceptualization of social history. In their consideration of collections of people who have, up until recently, mostly "fumed on the margins" (p. 224) of their societies, these authors present material that should be engrossing for historians oriented toward the study of "ordinary people and everyday life."

Moreover, it would be hard to locate a better set of summaries of the historical roots of worldwide fundamentalism. Marty and Appleby make it clear that they explicitly requested these scholars to account for the historical emergence of the movements they consider (p. xi). Thus Ammerman provides, for example, a masterful summary of the historic roots of North American protestant fundamentalism. Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman skillfully locate the emergence of Jewish Haredim, the ultra-orthodox, in the forces of late nineteenth century European political and economic change (pp. 198-212). John Voll and Abdulaziz Sachedina offer equally rich historical explorations for the Sunni and the Shi'ite Islamic worlds, respectively. Both scholars trace the emergence of these different strains of Islamic fundamentalism to their rising opposition to, and the economic immiseration resulting from, not just the policies of western colonial powers, but to the liberal/nationalist "modernizing dictators" (p. 410) they spawned, men such as Egypt's Nasser and the Shah of Iran. Mumtaz Ahmad explicates a similar story, with some different twists, in his survey of the rise of Islamic nationalism in Pakistan. There, fundamentalist ideology arose out of a similar reaction to secular modernism, and grew rapidly because it offered both an "authentic Islamic cultural identity" and an effective Islamic articulation of "the socioeconomic and political concerns of social strata that fared poorly in the newly emerging world of modernity" (p. 462).

Finally, social historians might find this volume especially helpful and fascinating because of the light it sheds on the arrival of modernity, a process centrally defined by the editors as "a set of forces which fundamentalists perceive as the threat which inspires their reaction" (p. vii). The crises of modernity run through these studies like interwoven threads, and provoke thoughtful treatment by a number of contributors. Certainly, in their efforts to integrate their religious understandings into every aspect of their lives, these fundamentalists, the editors note, resist the "compartmentalizing tendencies of the modern social sciences" (p. 815). Still, in building these total systems in opposition to modernity, these scholars repeatedly point out, the militants become "dependent" on modernity (P. 216), even "obsessed" (P. 331) with it. Indeed, while seething at the incursions of secular (and/or western) modernism, these fundamentalists, conclude the editors (p. 827), actually demonstrate a closer affinity to it than to tradition. This leads to seemingly incongruous images: of ultra-orthodox Jews composing angry denunciations of modern Zionist culture on their personal computers (p. 218), or of the Ayatollah Khomeini accepting elements of modern political culture such as nationalism and popular political participation (p. 436). Thus, argues Ahmad, in adopting such technologies and strategies from "the very western sources they purport to repudiating," such movements "may inadvertently act as the agents of change in their societies" (p. 485).

The examples and reflections here are nearly endless. It will have to suffice to say, in sum, that the essays in this volume offer an exceedingly rich mine of material on the worldwide rise of fundamentalisms for not only social historians, but for anybody interested in the intersection or religion, society and politics in the modern - or even the postmodern - world. Students of such matters doubtlessly await the forthcoming volumes from this project with a good deal of anticipation.
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Author:Bush, Perry
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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