Life in America: The Reagan Years, A Webography

American Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction

Fundamentalism is the belief that the Bible possesses complete infallibility because every word in it is the Word of God.  The term is derived from a series of tracts, The Fundamentals, published in the USA in 1909.  Other doctrines defended (on the basis of this literal acceptance of passages in the Bible) include the interpretation of the death of Jesus as a "substitutionary" sacrifice to the just wrath of God on mankind's sins;  the virgin birth, physical resurrection and "Second Coming" of Jesus;  and eternal punishment in hell.  Fundamentalism is strongest among some American Protestants, and is usually accompanied by the condemnation both of the Roman Catholic Church and of modern thought.

Source:  Edwards, David.  "Fundamentalism."  The Norton Dictionary of Modern Thought.  Eds. Alan Bullock and Stephen Tombley.  New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999.  344.  Print. 

For additional information, see the Wikipedia article on "Fundamentalist Christianity";  Pradip Thomas, "Christian Fundamentalism and the Media";  the profile of "Fundamentalism" at the Religious Movements archive;  and "My Half-Year of Hell with Christian Fundamentalists."

Fundamentalism in Film: Two Documentaries about Fundamentalism in Contemporary Culture

Buy Hell House at Amazon.Com.
Watch Jesus Camp in its entirety at FreeDocumentaries.Org.

Web Resources about American Fundamentalism

Christian Fundamentalism and the Media

Score: 18

Summary: Pradip Thomas, assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Queensland in Australia, gives not only yet another overview of fundamentalism but also an examination of its unique relationship with the media, asserting that “a characteristic feature of Christian fundamentalist organisations today is their use of broadcasting and web-based information strategies to conduct aggressive campaigns against non-believers.” While other articles examine historical interactions between fundamentalists and society at large, Thomas brings up a fascinating point: in a world dominated by TV and the web, the fundamentalist movement has come to use these resources to exist not only in the past, but also in the present; not just in books but on websites and TV screens.

Evaluation: While the history of fundamentalism is all well and good, Thomas addresses fundamentalism in “the now,” an era of TVs and computers in every building, and internet access built into every cell phone. While his bias is clear, the content is nonetheless both useful and fascinating. While there is not a specific date listed for the article and we therefore cannot judge its timeliness, the WACC (World Association for Christian Communication) website is frequently updated and the content does not appear terribly outdated.

Separating Religious Fundamentalist "Science" from Science

Score: 16

Summary: Dr. Tim M. Berra discusses the conflict between the scientific community and the fundamentalist perspective on science from the point of view of the former. Emphasizing the American public’s lack of knowledge about science and the creation vs. evolution debate, Berra explains the religious fundamentalist’s view of science and how it conflicts with the mainstream perspective. Berra also discusses the reconciliation between more mainstream religion and mainstream science that has happened despite the fundamentalist movement, specifically detailing how most of the creation vs. evolution debate today is not about religion vs. science, but rather fundamentalists vs. everyone else.

Evaluation: While Berra’s bias is obvious even from the title, in which fundamentalist “science” is put in quotes and it is immediately clear that what the author advocates is the separation of that “science” and mainstream science, this only serves to illustrate the frustration the scientific community feels towards the fundamentalist campaign to reject key theories of modern science, such as the classic example of evolution. Bias aside, Berra makes very fair points, pulling facts from various resources to outline the basics of the controversy and displaying marked even-handedness in his discussion of the reconciliation that has occurred between science and non-fundamentalist religious sects, and his admission that the scientific community must accept some of the blame for evolution still not being properly understood. Although the article is from 2001, the information is still both relevant and important to fully understanding fundamentalism in today’s world, as the evolution vs. creation debate continues to make news.
The Rise of Fundamentalism

Score: 15

Summary: In this article, published by the National Humanities Center, Dr. Grant Wacker (a professor of the history of religion in America at the Duke University Divinity School) gives a brief overview of fundamentalism. This includes the difference between generic and historic views of fundamentalism and the specific characteristics and concerns of American fundamentalists. He also offers his framework for guiding student discussion of the subject, and introduces the noteworthy literature on the topic. Overall, it is a good brief introduction with which to frame a scholarly approach to the subject of American fundamentalism, offering both a functional definition of the word “fundamentalism” and an outline of its rise in America.

Evaluation: As mentioned, this article’s primary purpose is to give a brief introduction to the topic of fundamentalisms, offer a working definition, and outline how fundamentalism has interacted with society historically through its rise in culture.  Thus, it therefore gives us a good framework for approaching the subject, and although the author does not cite them as sources directly, he does provide us with information about the popular scholarly publications that we may use for further exploration. The article, having been revised in 2000, is slightly dated, but the information found therein is still relevant, as the history and nature of fundamentalism has not changed.

Fighting the Good Fight: Fundamentalism and Religious Revival

Score: 15

Summary: Beeman uses his description of the four qualities of “revivalism; orthodoxy; evangelism; and social action” as the basis for his discussion of fundamentalism. While he examines fundamentalism as a global phenomenon and not just its American subset, American fundamentalism is heavily featured in his discussion of these qualities. Beeman also provides not only a list of the sources used in the article, but also a list of suggestions for further reading, and provides a more in-depth examination of what, exactly, fundamentalism is than Grant’s article without getting so specific as to become inaccessible. He concludes the article with a discussion of how fundamentalism shapes and is shaped by the broader society by describing the various (often both literally and figuratively violent) ways in which the two interact.

Evaluation: To understand the specifics of American fundamentalism, one must understand the key elements of fundamentalism as a whole. As a professor of Anthropology at Brown University, Beeman’s expertise can and does shine through; his discussion of the characteristics of fundamentalism is both detailed and even-handed, making the article an invaluable source of information for newcomers to the topic seeking something that goes beyond an introduction. The inclusion of sources and suggested readings might prove particularly useful. In addition to providing useful information, his more global perspective encourages us to think about fundamentalism as less of a marginalized phenomenon and more of a widespread ideology that can begin to take root in any place and any philosophy. Like Grant’s article, this source is from 2000, but the information is not terribly dated and is still relevant today.

Religion Online

Score: 15

Summary: Religion Online was founded when senior editor William F. Fore noticed a lack of sites providing actual scholarly material to be used as resources for the study of religion. In rectifying this, he brought together an online database of over 6,000 “chapters, monographs, speeches and articles” by recognized scholars in the field to exist budding scholars as well as teachers and anyone seeking further knowledge. Articles on the site are organized by topic, and the topics encompass a wide range and include articles on fundamentalism, articles on social issues like homosexuality and terrorism, articles on ethical issues like sexuality and violence, articles on various theologies (feminist, catholic, postmodern, etc.), higher education, and bible commentary, to name a few. Volunteer editors run the site, with operational costs covered by a grant from the Claremont School of Theology in California.

Evaluation: Religion Online brings together a variety of different authors writing about a range of topics with a range of areas of expertise, making it a veritable goldmine of information. The section on fundamentalism includes fifteen articles authored by professors, writers, and ministers alike, offering a wealth of variety. The credentials of each author, as well as the journals or other sources in which the article originally appeared (if applicable) are provided, as well as the name of the editor who brought the resource to Religion Online. Many have clear biases and few provide any sort of bibliography or recommended reading, and while some articles are relatively current, others are slightly dated. Though each individual article may be hit-or-miss, having its own strengths and weaknesses, the sheer number of articles available still makes this a valuable site.

Certainty and Self-Deception Among American Fundamentalism

Score: 15

Summary: This article explores the psychological aspects of fundamentalism, including (somewhat ironically) the evolutionary basis of deception and self-deception. Braxton primarily asserts, with evidence, that the “certainty” exhibited by fundamentalists (for example, the assumption that “true” science should obviously conform to scripture) is a form of self-deception. The article is a fascinating, in-depth explanation of the psychological basis of how self-deception works, how religion works, and how the two might be connected in fundamentalism. In conclusion, Braxton provides suggestions for how his explanation might be tested, and cites existing literature in which similar tests have been performed. The article was published by Metanexus Institute, an organization dedicated to “promoting the constructive engagement of religion and science worldwide.”

Evaluation: Although the article is from 2004, the information is up to date enough to be valuable and the sources cited are relatively recent, most being from the ‘90s and early ‘00s. The main strength of the article is that it offers a psychological perspective on fundamentalism that uses the scientific method to analyze the phenomenon. Examining fundamentalism in a variety of ways from a plethora of perspectives increases of our understanding of what the movement is and how it affects society. Braxton’s almost entirely objective scientific analysis gives us another piece in the puzzle of understanding fundamentalism.

George W. Bush's Crusade and American Fundamentalism

Score: 13

Summary: The article’s title implies a heavy focus on President Bush, but Marina discusses the overall connection between fundamentalism and political regimes a great deal. He asserts that “all of the great empires in history have been characterized by a decline of reason and an increase in super-naturalist faith,” and proceeds to explore the relationship of fundamentalism to politics historically, beginning with Rome. This makes sense if we consider that the article was published by George Mason University’s History News Network, whose mission it is to relate current events with historical precedent, which is exactly what Marina does. After describing the decline of empires and the connection to fundamentalist involvement, he ends by describing the decline of the U.S. empire, relating history with present day.

Evaluation: This article weaves historical precedent for fundamentalist influence on politics and government with current events in a way that is brief, informative, and easy to understand. Although the author has clear bias, his article encourages readers to think about the connections between fundamentalism and politics, and the possible dangers therein. However, Marina neglects to cite any sources for his claims, leaving us with his word alone and making the article less convincing than it could be. Also, being from 2004, it is slightly outdated, especially considering the focus on George W. Bush’s presidency, which was only halfway to its conclusion. Nevertheless, the way the articles weaves together history and the present, as well as fundamentalism and politics, makes it worthy of a read for anyone interested in fundamentalism and the affect it has had on politics and government.

Creation Museum

Score: 12

Summary: The Creation Museum “state-of-the-art” 70,000 square foot museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The museum “brings the pages of the Bible to life” via exhibits such as those exploring the perceived difference between evolution and natural selection and another explaining the “true timeline of the universe” through biblical history. The museum also offers special events and workshops, such as the one titled Evolution: Not a Chance! in which “using magical illusions, Dr. Menton illustrates the improbability of evolution.” Viewing the Creation Museum’s website allows fundamentalism to speak for itself, and the message comes through loud and clear.

Evaluation: Whether or not this is truly a “credible” resource supported by a “reputable” organization will, of course, depend on your beliefs. However, it is certainly credible in the sense that it provides credible evidence of the dedication—and the funding—that go toward the American fundamentalist movement. The organization backing the site (the museum itself) is reputable in this sense, as well. To understand fundamentalism, it is important to not only get an idea of what both secular and non-secular scholars are saying about it, but also what the fundamentalists themselves are saying. This site clearly illustrates not only the extreme nature of certain fundamentalist beliefs, but also the financial backing behind the promotion of those beliefs.

In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood

Score: 11

Summary: This site offers the fundamentalist perspective on science—specifically, on the evidence for the literal interpretation of the Bible that is a key element of fundamentalism. The book available on this site, In the Beginning, discusses questions like “Does the scientific evidence support evolution or creation?” and “How old is the earth? What dating techniques indicate a young earth?” from the fundamentalist perspective, offering answers compatible with a literal interpretation of the scripture. Walt Brown, the author of the book, has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and was a National Science Foundation Fellow there. Whether that makes the science sound is up to the reader.

Evaluation: The credibility of this source depends on what kind of credibility we’re discussing. As a scientific resource, most would instantly call this site’s credibility into question. However, as a source for understanding fundamentalism, this site excels despite its flaws. As a fundamentalist scientist—although not in the life sciences or geology and therefore not an expert on either evolution or the counter-arguments that exist to the flood theory—Brown can offer a sort of expertise, if not on science, then on the fundamentalist viewpoint regarding modern science. This is another case of letting fundamentalism speak for itself. It’s one thing to read about the fundamentalist perspective on science, and another thing to read the thing itself—the primary sources.

The Fundamentals

Score: 11

Summary: This web database contains an unabridged collection of The Fundamentals, which, as mentioned in other articles, are a set of ninety essays by sixty-six different authors. The purpose of the essays was to defend the fundamentalist faith, which was perceived to be under attack. Upon following the links to each of the essays, readers will find the name of the author and a short description of the author’s credentials followed by the full text of the essay. The site also contains text commentaries by other evangelical authors.

Evaluation: In studying American fundamentalism and most especially its history, no other text could be a more useful resource than the one that built the foundation for modern fundamentalism. Although the text is dated, being from the early 1900s, it was the foundation for fundamentalism today, and beliefs have not greatly changed. The Blue Letter Bible site is perhaps not as reputable a source as it could be, but a quick crosscheck with other sites confirms that all of the essays contained in the original text of The Fundamentals are present and accounted for.

Content created by Chelsea Jacob.