Life in America: The Reagan Years, A Webography

Discussion Questions for George M. Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture

1.  Describe the “true fundamentalist” or the “fundamentalist believer.”  What are the cornerstones of this person’s beliefs?

2.  What is the purpose of the “fundamentalist believer’s” life?

3.  Within the fundamentalist worldview, what is “sin”?  And what is the “fundamentalist believer’s” recourse when he/she has sinned?

4.  In what ways might belief in fundamentalism be considered “empirical”?  [In very simple terms, and thanks to authors at Wikipedia, “empiricism” is a theory of knowledge which asserts that knowledge comes via the sense's experience. Empiricism is one of several competing views that predominate in the study of human knowledge, known as epistemology. Empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence, especially sensory perception, in the formation of ideas, over the notion of innate ideas or tradition in contrast to, for example, rationalism which relies upon reason and can incorporate innate knowledge.]

5.  In the fundamentalist “doctrine,” what role (if any) does free will play in human experience?  What role (if any) does determinism play in human experience?

6.  What is the “fundamentalist believer’s” responsibility to self?  To “neighbor”?  to “society”?

7.  Within the fundamentalist worldview, what is the relationship between faith and political advocacy?

8.  What is the relationship between fundamentalism and American culture according to Marsden?  According to Atwood?

9.  What is the fundamentalist view of Scripture?  Of the relationship between the “fundamentalist believer” and faith?  Of the relationship between Scripture and faith?

10.  In what ways might belief in fundamentalism be considered “rational”?  [In very simple terms, and thanks to authors at Wikipedia, “rationalism” is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" (Lacey 286). In more technical terms it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive" (Bourke 263). Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position "that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge" to the more extreme position that reason is "the unique path to knowledge" (Audi 771).]

11.  What role (if any) does the “supernatural” play within the “fundamentalist believer’s” view of Scripture?  Faith?  Belief?  Religion?

12.  In the fundamentalist worldview, what is the relationship of the church to the present age?

13.  For some who claim the moniker of “fundamentalist,” a foundational principle of their belief is that “The battle for the Bible [is] a battle for civilization.”  Explain this statement, specifically as it pertains to a “fundamentalist” worldview.

14.  What role (if any) does “intellectualism” play within fundamentalism? 

15.  What is the relationship (if any) between fundamentalism and patriotism?  In what ways (again, if any) is this relationship exploited in The Handmaid’s Tale?  Under the Reagan Administration during the 1980s?  Under the George W. Bush Administration in the early 2000s?  For what purpose(s)?  And to what ends?