Simon A. Wood and David Harrington Watt, ed.sFundamentalism: Perspectives on a Contested History

University of South Carolina Press, 2014

by Kristian Petersen on June 8, 2015

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In the past few decades, radical fundamentalists have become a major force in the global world. Or at least that what we often here in media outlets or from politicians and religious figures. But what exactly does 'fundamentalism' mean? Does this category point to something specific and exclude phenomena that falls outside the intended use of the term? In Fundamentalism: Perspectives on a Contested History (University of South Carolina Press, 2014) editors Simon A. Wood, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and David Harrington Watt, Professor of History at Temple University, collect a broad set of essays that address just this. They investigate the origins of the term, various communities that have been classified 'fundamentalist,' and alternative trajectories for the deployment of the label. Most often 'fundamentalism' is used to designate a position that advocates a rejection of modernity, scriptural literalism, militancy, and politicization of religion. However, under further investigation the separate communities or leaders do not always comply with these positions or approaches. Additionally, we frequently find familiar positions advocating for these standpoints without being labeled 'fundamentalist.' While not excluding other voices the editors and most of the collection's authors argue that the term 'fundamentalism' is unanchored from its American Protestant origins, obscure in its designation, and assumes religion is a separate distinct sphere of social life. Therefore, they claim it is inadequate and ineffective to employ the term as an analytical category. In our conversation we discuss early twentieth-century conservative Protestantism, Ayatollah Khomeini, American and Israeli Judaism, Islamic Education, environmental consciousness, Salafism, Sufism, Shiism, and secular societies.

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