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Religious Fanaticism

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Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR,volume 10)


Some belief systems seem to corroborate a direct causation of convictions by basic cognitive modules: religious fanaticism, among others fits into this category. An analysis of religious fanaticism, however, suggests that it depends on religious modernity and features of post-axial religions. Compared to earlier religions, post-axial ones are characterized by the objectification of world views, the moralizing of the sacred and redemptive righteousness. If the ultimate nature inherent in universal religions is interpreted as absolutism, fanaticism becomes possible. This analysis cannot be directly applied to indigenous religions, nor to the evolution of human religiosity. The loss of transcendence caused by modern-day fanaticism, however, leads to the surmise that the evolutionary trajectories of the religious capacity as such, and that of culturally implemented religious systems, should be distinguished. They should be regarded as separate, co-adapting subsystems. Types of fanaticism can be described by their different psychodynamics. Their common feature is a dysfunctional imbalance between self and non-self, between their own religious identity and that of others. The retrospective conclusion is that the evolution of religiosity was closely connected with the representation of one’s own mental state and that of others in the cognitive space.


  • Fanaticism
  • Axial age
  • Religious ultimacy
  • Religious absolutism
  • World objectification
  • Redemptive righteousness
  • Transcendence
  • Fanatic types
  • Psychodynamics
  • Cognitive space

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-70408-7_12
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Hemminger, H. (2021). Religious Fanaticism. In: Evolutionary Processes in the Natural History of Religion. New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion , vol 10. Springer, Cham.

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