Fundamentalism, East and West

Here are some references for SOCA2520 students which discuss how to define fundamentalism and in particular whether the term "fundamentalism" should be applied to Islam and other non-Christian religions. They take different positions, some arguing for a broad definition of "fundamentalism" that would include movements within Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, etc., as well Christian fundamentalism, and others arguing that the term should be restricted to the Christian fundamentalists who originated the term.

I've added quotes from some of the authors to illustrate the variety of views.

You may find these references useful in relation to Essay 1, Topic 1. All the books are, or are being placed, in Short Loans.

Geoffrey Samuel


Sahgal, Gita and Yuval-Davis, Nira (1992) "Introduction: Fundamentalism, Multiculturalism and Women in Britain." In Refusing Holy Orders: Women and Fundamentalism in Britain, edited by Gita Sahgal and Nira Yuval-Davis, pp.1-25. London: Virago. [some of the other essays in this book may also be of interest]

Sahgal and Yuval-Davis's on fundamentalism:

Beyond all these differences, there are two features which are common to all fundamentalist religious movements: one, that they claim their version of religion to be the only true one, and feel threatened by pluralist systems of thought; two, that they use political means to impose their version of the truth on all members of their religion . . . Fundamentalist movements, all over the world, are basically political movements which have a religious imperative and seek in various ways, in widely differing circumstances, to harness modern state and media powers to the service of their gospel. (p.4)


Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (1994) "Fundamentalism Discourses: Enemy Images." Women Against Fundamentalism Journal no.5, pp.2-6. E-text at http://waf.gn.apc.org/j5p2.htm

Esposito (quoted by Pieterse):

I regard 'fundamentalism' as too laden with Christian presuppositions and Western stereotypes, as well as implying a monolithic threat that does not exist; more fitting general terms are 'Islamic revivalism' or 'Islamic activism, which are less value-laden and have roots within the Islamic tradition. Islam possesses a long tradition of revival (tajdid) and reform (Islah) which includes notions of political and social activism dating from the early Islamic centuries to the present day.


Sahgal, Gita and Yuval-Davis, Nira (1994) "The Uses of Fundamentalism." Women Against Fundamentalism Journal no.5, pp.7-9. E-text at http://waf.gn.apc.org/j5p7.htm [This is a response to the preceding article]


Brown, Karen McCarthy (1994) "Fundamentalism and the Control of Women." InFundamentalism and Gender, edited by John Stratton Hawley, pp.175-201. New York: Oxford University Press.

Brown suggests that "the varieties of fundamentalism found throughout the world today are extreme responses to the failed promise of Enlightenment rationalism. Fundamentalism ... is the religion of those at once seduced and betrayed by the promise that we human beings can comprehend and control our world." (pp.175-6)


Castells, Manuel (1997) The Power of Identity (Volume II of The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture.) Malden, Mass. and Oxford: Blackwells. [See especially the section "God's Heavens: Religious Fundamentalism and Cultural Identity" in Chapter 1, "Communal Heavens: Identity and Meaning in the Network Society.")

Castells' definition of fundamentalism:

The construction of collective identity under the identification of individual behaviour and society's institutions to the norms derived from God's law, interpreted by a definite authority that intermediates between God and humanity (p.13)


Halliday, Fred (1994) "The Politics of Islamic Fundamentalism: Iran, Tunisia and the Challenge to the Secular State." In Islam, Globalization and Modernity, edited by Akbar S. Ahmed and Hastings Donnan, pp.91-113. London: Routledge.

Halliday on Islamic 'fundamentalism':

If there is one common thread running through the multiple movements characterized as 'fundamentalist,' it is not anything to do with their interpretation of the Islamic 'foundations,' i.e. the Qur'an or hadith but rather their claim to be able to determine a politics for Muslim peoples . . . In this respect the rise of Islamist movements in the 1970s and 1980s bears comparison with that of tendencies elsewhere that deploy religious ideology in pursuit of other, nationalist and populist, political goals‹in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism. (p.94)


Aftab, Macksood (1995) "What Does Fundamentalism Really Mean?" E-text at http://www.themodernreligion.com/terror/def-fundy.html

Aftab on the term 'fundamentalism' as applied to Islam:

To apply the same terminology to Muslims is neither fair nor valid. Because in the case of Islam all Muslims believe in absolute inerrancy of the Quran, since it is a basic Islamic tenet. Therefore the media would have to use the word fundamentalist for all Muslims! which it does not do. It only uses the word Fundamentalist for both the extremist and terrorist groups, and the true moderate Islamic revivalist movements. Both these definitions are incompatible with each other. Using the word fundamentalist for the former may be acceptable, since it does have some parallel to the Christian definition. But if that definition is to be used, however, then using the same word to describe the latter would be erroneous and completely unacceptable. It is this dual definition that is unfair to the Islamic faith. Therefore the media should either stop using the word Fundamentalist to describe any and all Islamic organizations, or be much more careful in its usage.

See also another shorter article by Aftab (with the same title!) and this article by Ilyas Ba-Yunus for similar views.


Sayyid, Bobby S. (1997) A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism. London and New York: Zed Books.

Sayyid on Sahgal and Yuval-Davis:

[Sahgal and Yuval-Davis's] concept of fundamentalism relies not on its internal coherence but, rather, on a 'shared' assumption regarding the role of politics, truth and religionŠ My criticism of [the concept of] fundamentalism is based on the impossibility of using it as the ground upon which to carry out a meaningful comparison between, for example, the BJP, Likud, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Christian Coalition and so on. (pp.15-16)


Moghissi, Haideh (2000) Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis. Dhaka: University Press Ltd.; Karachi: Oxford University Press. [especially chapter 4]


GBS: Page written 17/3/2002