Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Fundamentalist Challenge to the Modern World

by Martin E. Marty & R. Scott Appleby

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8070-1216-5
Publisher: Beacon

 Something rare: a fair-minded assessment of religious fundamentalism. In this companion volume to a three-part PBS series, Marty (History of Modern Christianity/University of Chicago; Modern American Religion, 1986-91, etc.) and Appleby--codirectors of the Fundamentalism Project at the Univ. of Chicago--aim to dissipate the fog of ignorance that surrounds the average understanding of fundamentalism. By and large, they succeed--and come up with a surprise as well: Fundamentalist groups are not ``fossilized, vestigial, and static'' but, rather, ``innovative...and usually dynamic''--which helps to explain their galloping popularity around the globe. The authors work hard at defining the phenomenon: Fundamentalists of all stripes, they report, converge in rejecting rationalism, in seeing history as a battle between good and evil, and in favoring ways of life considered ``scandalous'' by secular society (witness the millions of Islamic women who don the veil and chador). Fundamentalists are, in a nutshell, traditionalists who ``fight back.'' Three movements receive special attention here: American Protestant fundamentalism, which continues to swell, establishing its own culture that offers ultraconservative alternatives to evolution, secular humanism, and ecumenism; Israel's Gush Emunim, a tiny minority of right-wing activists who populate the occupied territories and commit terrorist acts; and Islamic fundamentalism, winning hearts and minds by restoring a sense of the divine through strict adherence to Islamic law. Despite prose that's as dry as Melba toast (``indeed, the attempt to characterize fundamentalisms across cultures leads to generalizations that must be examined in each case for exceptions and modifications''): a useful guide to what is proving to be--who would have guessed?--a historical movement at least as important as Marxist-Leninism.