Fideism I

  • David Cowan


When Islam came to prominence due to the Iranian revolution, the term that was used then and for much of the following years was “fundamentalism.” The terminological difficulties critics and commenters face have led to the explosion of terms mentioned and seem to have rendered the term fundamentalist almost a quaint artifact of recent political debate. The term is still used, especially in polemics, and Salafism and Wahhabism are usually condensed into the broader term of fundamentalism in an attempt to narrow the understanding of Islamism, which in turn reduces the understanding of diversity and dissonance in the Islamic world. Fundamentalism is a problematic term that originated in early twentieth-century American Christianity. The term was derived from the major work at the heart of American fundamentalism, a multi-volume set of some 100 essays in 12 volumes published from 1910 to 1915 called “The Fundamentals” authored by leading scholars at the time, including James Orr, Charles Erdman, H.C.G. Moule and Bishop Ryle. The roots go deeper into the late nineteenth century, with the building opposition to an emerging liberal theology and the new higher biblical criticism; though “higher than what?” Canon Dyson Hague, one of the authors, asked. Matters came to an historical nexus during the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, when conservative evangelical Christians became labeled as fundamentalists and derided as anti-scientific and set against the modern world. The fundamentalists won the trial battle, maintaining a legal ban on teaching of evolution in schools, but lost the public opinion war. Chided by the experience, fundamentalists retreated from the public square, and remained apart from it until the 1980s, when Jerry Falwell, a fundamentalist who broadened the message, created the Moral Majority (Denominations which house fundamentalists include Apostolic Christian Church of America, Baptist Bible Fellowship International, Christian Israelite Church, Fellowship of Fundamental Bible Churches, Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association, Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International, Gloriavale Christian Community, Independent Baptist, Independent Baptist Fellowship International, Independent Baptist Fellowship of North America, Independent Fundamental Churches of America, International Churches of Christ, Southwide Baptist Fellowship, Wealthy Street Baptist Church, Wisconsin Fellowship of Baptist Churches and World Baptist Fellowship; and again, may be found in other broader denominations. An authoritative view is provided by George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). Steve Bruce, Modernity and fundamentalism: the new Christian right in America, British Journal of Sociology (41:4, 1990) 477–496, argues fundamentalism fails in its engagement and remains sectarian. James Barr probed theologically, and controversially, into fundamentalism in his two major works Fundamentalism (London: SCM Press, 2nd Revised edition, 1981) and Escaping Fundamentalism (London: SCM Press, 1984). Martin E. Marty led the Fundamentalism Project from 1987 to 1995, culminating in five volumes published by the University of Chicago Press from 1994 to 2003; see, last accessed 28 April 2012).


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Cowan
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston CollegeBostonUSA

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