Martin Marty on the Fundamentalism Project

March 27, 2018

Fundamentalism and fundamentalist reinterpretations of religious texts are a distinctly modern phenomenon, closely connected to the rapid developments in communications technology that forced previously closed groups to confront new, alien ideas.

Professor Marty traces the idea of fundamentalism to the 1920s, to the which saw the appearance of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (VBJP) in India.

“What was happening was that traditional cultures were being besieged by migration, immigration, technology, whatever it was, and they had to make sense of it and many made easy transitions, others got their backs up and legitimately feeling threatened, invented new ways,” Marty said. “We saw fundamentalism not as the old-time religion, not as this plain traditional—though it worked with old time religion—it was a very modern phenomenon.”

Marty contrasts ISIS with the earlier fundamentalism movements, suggesting that it is a militant group before it is a religious one. 

“But I don’t know of anything that any of them have done to contribute to the understanding of [their religion] the way the groups [like the Muslim Brotherhood, RSS, and VBJP] did,” Marty said.

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