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fundamentalism. 1 In Protestantism, religious movement that arose among conservative members of various Protestant denominations early in the 20th cent., with the object of maintaining traditional interpretations of the Bible and of the doctrines of the Christian faith in the face of Darwinian evolution, secularism, and the emergence of liberal theology.

A group protesting “modernist” tendencies in the churches circulated a 12-volume publication called The Fundamentals (1909–12), in which five points of doctrine were set forth as fundamental: the Virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus, the infallibility of the Scriptures, the substitutional atonement, and the physical second coming of Christ. The debate between fundamentalists and modernists was most acute among the Baptists and the Presbyterians but also arose within other denominations. In a highly publicized case, the so-called Monkey Trial (1925), the fundamentalist leader William Jennings Bryan won Tennessee's case against J. T. Scopes, for teaching evolution in the public schools (see Scopes trial). Other attempts, however, by fundamentalists in the 1920s to rid the churches of modernism and the schools of evolution failed.

By the 1930s many fundamentalists began to withdraw into independent churches and splinter denominations, and fundamentalism became identified in the public mind with anti-intellectualism and extremism. Many fundamentalists rejected this image, and a movement was begun in the late 1940s to present their position in both a more scholarly and popular way. This movement, known as neoevangelicalism (or, more simply, evangelicalism), sought a wider following from the major denominations through its various schools, youth programs, publications, and radio broadcasts. The separatists saw these efforts as compromising fundamentalist views and sought to disassociate themselves from these religious institutions and such well-known evangelical fundamentalists as Billy Graham.

Since the late 1970s fundamentalists have embraced electoral and legislative politics and the “electronic church” in their fight against perceived threats to traditional religious values: so-called secular humanism, Communism, feminism, legalized abortion, homosexuality, and the ban on school prayer. They have continued to oppose the teaching of evolution in the schools or have sought to have creationism or intelligent design taught as well. In recent years some fundamentalists have also attacked the teaching of scientific theories on the origins of the universe (see cosmology). Those Americans who describe themselves as fundamentalists (approximately 25% of the U.S. population) have become a political bloc in their own right. During the 1980s they made up a large portion of the new Christian right that helped put Ronald Reagan into the White House, and early in the 21st cent. they aided significantly in the election of George W. Bush to the presidency. The Moral Majority, founded by the fundamentalist Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell in 1979, was the most visible example of this new trend in the 1980s; the most prominent current group is the Christian Coalition, headed by Pat Robertson. Moderate fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals continue to forge new alliances, for example in the Southern Baptist Convention, to wield political and denominational control.


See N. Furniss, The Fundamentalist Controversy, 1918–1931 (1954, repr. 1963); L. Gasper, The Fundamentalist Movement, 1930–1956 (1963); E. R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism (1970); M. Ellingsen, The Evangelical Movement (1988); W. H. Capps, The New Religious Right (1990); J. B. Flippen, Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right (2011).

2 In other religions. In Islam, the term “fundamentalism” encompasses various modern Muslim leaders, groups, and movements opposed to secularization in Islam and Islamic countries and seeking to reassert traditional beliefs and practices. After the Shiite revolution (1979) led by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the term was applied to a number of ultra-conservative or militant Islamic movements there and in other countries, such as the Taliban of Afghanistan. There are both Shiite and Sunni fundamentalist leaders and groups, such as the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Muslim Brotherhood. The term has also been applied to Hindu nationalist groups in India (see Hinduism; Bharatiya Janata party).

Fundamental Orders

Fundamental Orders, in U.S. history, the basic law of the Connecticut colony from 1639 to 1662, formally adopted (Jan. 14, 1639) by representatives from the towns of Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor, meeting at Hartford. Thomas Hooker, John Haynes, and Roger Ludlow were most influential in framing the document. It was not “the first written constitution that shaped a government,” as it has been popularly called; nor did it mark the beginning of a “commonwealth democracy”—another misconception fostered by 19th-century historians straining hard to mark the foundations of American democracy. Its provisions for voting in what is now Connecticut reveal how far from democratic it actually was. However, this deficiency is no reflection on the importance or soundness of the document, for political democracy as we know it today was virtually nonexistent in the 17th cent. except in such rare cases as the Rhode Island colony under Roger Williams. Indeed the Puritans regarded unconfined democracy as an aberration. To them only the most substantial, respectable, and reliable Christians were considered worthy to build up a community essentially religious in design. The Fundamental Orders consisted of a preamble and 11 orders or laws. The preamble bound the inhabitants of the three towns to be governed in all things by the orders that followed, and these were similar to the statute laws elsewhere in New England, differing only in that they were shaped into a brief, clear, compact frame of government (Ludlow, a lawyer, is believed chiefly responsible for the excellence of the final form). The government, or “combination,” as Hooker called it, confirmed the system that had functioned in the three towns since 1636 and was very like the Massachusetts model. The main concern of the Fundamental Orders was the welfare of the community; the individual always had to give way if the needs of the community at large so required. The charter of Connecticut in 1662 superseded and was largely based on the Fundamental Orders.


See C. M. Andrews, The Beginnings of Connecticut, 1632–1662 (1934).

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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The term fundamentalist can be applied to any who read the scriptures of their religion in a literal, non-metaphorical way, as defined by accepted, conservative, orthodox authorities. In the American mind, post-September 11, 2001, the word conjures up two images. The first is the old image of the Protestant Christian fundamentalist—the "Bible-believing, virgin-birth, born-again, second-coming" image. The second and more recent image is that of the Islamic fundamentalist who seeks to attack the United States, calling it a child of Satan.

In one important respect, both images illustrate the same word. If "faith" is understood in terms of accepting a body of facts called religious doctrine (see Faith), then a fundamentalist is one who has accepted his or her tradition's "fundamental" doctrines, as put forth by someone who is considered orthodox.

In the case of Christianity, the term was coined by a series of twelve small books published between 1910 and 1915 under the name The Fundamentals. The committee assembled to put the series together identified five key doctrines they believed to be the essential core beliefs that all Christians were required to accept. Sixty-four authors contributed to the project, B. B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary being the most prominent.

The five fundamentals were said to be:

The virgin birth of Christ Jesus' deity and substitutionary atonement for sin Christ's bodily resurrection His literal second coming The authority and inerrancy of the Bible These booklets defined the kind of Christian orthodoxy that became known as fundamentalism.

Militant Islamics were given the name fundamentalists by the media shortly after their takeover of Iran in the 1970s. When the Qur'an became the law of the land, "Muslim fundamentalist" became a household term. Shi'ite Islam, the primary religion of Iran, has long housed within it a faction that reverenced martyrdom. In Sura 4:95 of the Qur'an, it says, "Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. God hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight."

When "fight" is understood in terms of actual, flesh-and-blood warfare instead of spiritual warfare, when the Qur'an is read literally rather than metaphorically, the term fundamentalist is applied.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an extremely conservative tendency in modern Protestantism, directed against liberal Protestant rationalism, or what the Fundamentalists call modernism. Fundamentalism rejects any criticism of the Bible and preaches the infallibility of Holy Scripture as the “fundament” of Christianity. Fundamentalism demands that all Protestants return to blind faith in the biblical miracles, the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, and Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven.

Fundamentalism flourished chiefly in the southern states of the USA, especially among Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists during the second decade of the 20th century, after the publication and wide distribution between 1910 and 1912 of a series of anonymous pamphlets that stigmatized any sort of criticism or rationalist interpretation of Scripture. In the succeeding decade, Fundamentalism attacked science and opposed its authority over that of the Bible. From 1921 to 1929, Fundamentalists in a number of southern states (Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi) succeeded in having laws adopted that prohibited the teaching of Darwin’s theories on evolution in the public schools. In 1973, Tennessee amended the law to permit the teaching of Darwin’s ideas but only as a hypothesis and along with the biblical version of creation.

In 1948, in order to counterbalance the World Council of Churches, Fundamentalists reorganized the World’s Christian Fundamentalist Association (founded 1919) into the International Council of Christian Churches, comprising 140 Protestant churches from many countries. In the 1970’s, however, the Fundamentalists did not have much influence.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Christianity (esp among certain Protestant sects) the belief that every word of the Bible is divinely inspired and therefore true
2. Islam a movement favouring strict observance of the teachings of the Koran and Islamic law
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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