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Religious Fundamentalism and Out Group Hostility: Does It Pose a Direct Threat to External Ideologies?
Societies across the globe have been seeing a rise in religious fundamentalism over the last century.  Historically the term was used to describe a trend among United States Protestants that occurred in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (Emerson & Hartman, 2006).  It is largely considered to have been a response to strictly intrareligious issues rather than any secular institution or institutions, which sets the historical use of this term apart from its contemporary connotations.  In today’s world scholars acknowledge that the rise of fundamentalism is directly tied to modernization.  As a result it can be seen as a threat to secular ideologies.  Because religious fundamentalism tends to insist on the importance of traditional religious doctrine over secular law, promotes the isolation of its adherents from external ideologies, and encourages hostility to perceived outsiders it can pose a threat to democracy and individual freedom. [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]

A return to the original and typically extremely strict interpretation of religious laws governing human behavior is at the heart of religious fundamentalism.  It can be viewed as a direct response to the secularization of societies and establishment of non-religious ideologies the basis for human behavior.  In fact, as many scholars are quick to point out, “[w]ithout modernisation and secularization there would be no fundamentalism” (Emerson & Hartman, 2006).  This may seem like an extreme statement, but upon further examination it holds up to scrutiny.  In modern times laws and ethical codes tend to uphold political ideologies rather than religious hierarchy.  Scholar Sandu Frunza offers an explanation: “Modernity brings a certain change of view which determines a transfer of symbols and mechanisms, of signification and power, from the structures connected to religion to those connected to social life, and especially, to those connected to politics” (2002).  These changes are perceived by many religious fundamentalists as directly in conflict with the traditional beliefs and codes on which they base their practice and their lives.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]

Another defining factor of fundamentalist belief must be considered in order to fully understand this dichotomy: the insistence on one immutable interpretation of religious law and practice to which external ideologies pose a perceived threat.  In her briefing to the European Parliament on religious fundamentalism and radicalisation Anita Orav cites religious followers’ conviction that “religious rules should prevail over secular ones” (2015) as an important determining factor in the establishment of fundamentalist beliefs.  The fact that secular law currently does, in most places, trump religious doctrine in determining legal codes of conduct is seen by fundamentalists of all creeds as proof “that this essential truth is fundamentally opposed by the forces of evil which must be vigorously fought” (Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1992).  This perceived threat of modern secular ideologies helps to explain the rise of religious fundamentalism in recent times, as secular political ideologies in direct opposition to theocracy have been steadily increasing in popularity and prevalence across the globe.  It also contributes to the tendency of fundamentalist groups to self-isolate and encourage hostility toward outsiders in their followers.

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A distinct difference has been noted between even orthodox followers of any given religion and their fundamentalist counterparts when it comes to expressing hostility toward non-believers.  Scholar Ruud Koopmans has studied the correlation between fundamentalism and out group hostility at length.  He points out in his research paper that “[a]mong both Christians and Muslims, strong religiosity as such is not (among Christians) or only mildly (among Muslims) related to hostility toward out-groups.”  In comparison he notes that “[f]undamentalist believers, however, show very high levels of out-group hostility” (2014).  Some scholars go so far as to label “the tendency toward self-separation from those not in their particular creed” (Van der Vyver, 1996) as one of the determining factors in defining fundamentalism in opposition to other forms of devout religious belief.  The tendency toward voluntary isolation from external secular and religious influences “promotes ruthless condemnation of, and intolerance toward, all competing forces” (Van der Vyver, 1996).  This tendency toward isolation is not necessarily in itself a threat to external ideologies.

It is a confluence of religious, societal, ideological, and political factors coming together that drives any group or individual from fundamentalism, which is not in and of itself a threat to other ideologies, to radicalism.  As Koopmans points out, hostility toward out groups “should not be equated with the willingness to employ physical violence” (2015) often associated with violent religious extremists.  Fundamentalist beliefs do, however, contribute to the likelihood of groups or individuals resorting to violence.  As Orav notes, “[i]deology forms an inseparable part of the radicalisation process” (2015).  The combination of belief in absolute religious truth, mistrust of out groups, and the perceived  threats of modernization and secularization to followers’ way of life does contribute to the potential for the violent extremism that can pose a direct threat to external political and social ideologies.  However, “it is suggested that ideology is not, alone, decisive but has to be complemented by other factors – political and social environment, and a psychological need for identity” (Orav, 2015) in order to create an environment conducive to moving frrom fundamentalism to violent extremism.

Unfortunately in contemporary times the term religious fundamentalism has often come to be equated exclusively with violent Muslim extremists.  Strict adherents of Islam face discrimination over their beliefs even when they do not identify as fundamentalists, and those who do are quickly redefined as extremists and terrorists.  This political and social atmosphere can only contribute to creating more of a rift between secular and religious organisations and radical extremists.  Although religious fundamentalism among all denominations is associated with out group hostility and does place itself in inherent opposition to secular social and political ideologies, it should not be assumed that any individual fundamentalist is necessarily going to pose a direct threat in the form of violent extremism.  Research is constantly being done in order to better explain the psychological and sociological factors contributing to individual examples of religious violence.Click Essay Writer to order your essay]

Emerson, Michael O. & Hartman, David (2006). “The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism.” Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 32, pp. 127-144.

Frunza, Sandu (2002). “Religious Fundamentalism and the Globalization of Intolerance.” Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Vol. 3, pp. 5-16.

Koopmans, Ruud (2015). “Religious Fundamentalism and Hostility against Out-groups: A
Comparison of Muslims and Christians in Western Europe.” Journal of Ethnic and 
            Migration Studies, Vol. 41:1, pp. 33-57.

Orav, Anita (2015). “Briefing: Religious fundamentalism and radicalisation.” Europian 
            Parliamentary Research Service.

Van der Vyver, Johan D. (1996). “Religious Fundamentalism And Human Rights.” Journal of 
            International Affairs, Vol. 50:1, pp. 21-40.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.


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