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Religious Violence and The Myth of Fundamentalism


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In the last quarter of a century, religion has emerged as something of a ‘dark force’ in human affairs. Its negative associations have come from two main sources. One is the prevalent stereotype about New Religious Movements, under the rubric of ‘cults’, and the other is the perceived threat posed by ‘fundamentalism’. Literatures about the threat of religious violence have thus focused on two types of groups that appear radically dissimilar: new groups that operate outside conventional religious communities, and fundamentalists, who claim to represent historic religious traditions.

The cult stereotype asserts that a combination of malevolent leaders, brainwashed followers and poisonous belief systems lead such groups to engage in violence against both their own members and outsiders. In fact, in the overwhelming majority of cases, there is no evidence to support this assertion.1 Nonetheless, such beliefs have been sufficiently widespread to stigmatise many new and unconventional religious groups.

By an unstated convention, a small number of what might be termed the ‘canonical cases’ occupy much of both the popular and academic literature on new religions. These cases include Jonestown, the Solar Temple, Heaven’s Gate, Aum Shinrikyo and the Branch Davidians.2 In only one of them – Aum Shinrikyo – were religionists the indisputable first users of violence against outsiders. In the others, violence was either directed inwards (for example, Jonestown) or against armed outsiders (for example, the Branch Davidians). This conventional grouping also omits certain cases that might equally well be considered, such as the confrontations that involved MOVE in Philadelphia and the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord in the Ozarks in 1985, but their inclusion would not alter the truth of the proposition that these groups rarely initiate violence.

A second, and more powerful, stigmatising factor has been the identification of fundamentalist religion with terrorism. This connection was made well before the attacks of 11 September 2001. In an influential 1996 article, Walter Laqueur predicted that terrorism would increasingly grow out of ‘sectarian fanaticism’.3 While Laqueur, too, spoke of ‘cults’, he also pointed to the violence potential of ‘religious fundamentalism’ and ‘apocalyptic millenarianism’, both lodged within historic religious traditions. References to ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ have become so commonplace in discussions of violence that they scarcely occasion any notice.

However, as with New Religious Movements, the prevailing association between fundamentalism and violence, particularly terrorism, should not be regarded as self-evidently true. It is, instead, often an act of labeling for the purpose of condemnation, with little regard for the beliefs to which the label is attached.4 ‘Fundamentalism’ itself is a construct whose relationship to violence is extremely problematic.

For purposes of understanding the relationship between religion and violence, it turns out to matter relatively little whether a group is a New Religious Movement or has emerged out of an existing religious tradition. The two seem more separate than they are. Their distinctness is less a consequence of intrinsically different natures than of accidents in the division of academic labour. New Religious Movements and historic religious traditions tend to be studied by different people, participating in different networks, with the result that the end-products of scholarship underestimate convergences and overestimate differences.

The fear of ‘dangerous religions’ has given rise to a literature that seeks to identify their characteristics, in the hope that intrinsic factors might allow one to distinguish the sinister from the benign. This essentialist argument asserts that it is possible to find markers of proneness to violence. These indicators allegedly centre around such features as styles of leadership (for example, charismatic), mode of organisation (for instance, isolated), and beliefs (for example, apocalyptic expectations).5 Unfortunately, the essentialist approach has little predictive value. Although inductively generated from past violent cases, it founders on the presence of numerous contrary cases. It is always possible to find non-violent groups that are, for example, led by charismatic leaders, physically isolated and doctrinally rigid. The search for a test based on the nature of the group is a blind alley, confirmed by the history of fundamentalism itself.

A Short History of ‘Fundamentalism’
Fundamentalism’ is a term that is now so widely used in so many different contexts that its origins have been obscured. As with other scholarly terms that have entered general usage (‘charisma’, for example), popularity has resulted in a degradation of meaning, as well as questionable applications. This is a particular difficulty where ‘fundamentalism’ is concerned, since its origins lie firmly in American Protestantism. The original context is of more than merely etymological significance, since it led directly to the political orientation of those who came to be called fundamentalists.

Fundamentalism arose out of an internal conflict in American Protestantism often referred to as the Modernist Controversy, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It concerned the orientation of Christians towards such intellectual developments as evolutionary biology and biblical ‘higher criticism’. The former challenged the biblical account of creation, while the latter challenged the divine status of the Bible. Protestant denominations gradually separated into two tendencies: ‘modernists’ or ‘liberals’, who argued that believers needed to adapt to the findings of science and scholarship; and ‘traditionalists’ or ‘conservatives’, who insisted upon maintaining older views of revelation and biblical inerrancy.

This process of polarisation led to a series of intra-denominational power struggles. As they progressed, the views of the anti-modernists were articulated in a set of pamphlets published between 1910 and 1915 under the title of The Fundamentals. Those who supported the booklets’ positions began to use ‘the Fundamentals’ as a catch-phrase for anti-modernism, and by 1920 termed themselves ‘fundamentalists’.6 By the mid-1920s, however, it became clear that fundamentalists were losing the battles. In one denomination after another, modernists assumed control. The 1925 Scopes Trial was merely a national symbol of declining fundamentalist influence, as well as of fundamentalism’s isolation from mainstream American culture. As it became clear that fundamentalists were losing ecclesiastical power struggles, they responded by creating their own parallel institutions. These included publishing houses, religious conferences, denominational structures and educational institutions. This was in part a function of their rejection by other Protestants, but it also symbolised the fundamentalists’ own conviction that the larger society was pervaded by sinfulness.

This withdrawal would be of merely historical interest were it not for its political implications. For fundamentalist withdrawal meant not only separation from other Protestants, but also self-imposed isolation from the political process – an isolation that encompassed not only fundamentalists but many of their related evangelical brethren.7 As the majority of Protestants opted for a politics dominated by secular issues and social reform, religious conservatives became ever more marginalised. By the late 1920s, as George Marsden notes, ‘most evangelicals remained on the fringes of American politics’.8 Fundamentalists did not rejoin the political system in large numbers until the growth of the New Religious Right in the late 1970s, through such organisations as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition.9

The purpose of this excursion into religious history is not only to point out the cultural roots of fundamentalism in its original form, but also – more importantly – to demonstrate that fundamentalists never had a single political orientation. They supported one of their own – William Jennings Bryan – in his three presidential bids in 1896, 1900 and 1908. Two decades later, they began to leave active politics, and did not return – until the founding of the Moral Majority in 1979.

Fundamentalists’ oscillating political orientation, however, was almost always with reference to legitimate, legal political activity. American fundamentalists almost never considered violence as an appropriate option. The issue was always one of withdrawal versus engagement, not violence versus non-violence. During active periods, they worked within the system. During the long passive stretch, they withdrew in a manner that did not challenge the legitimacy of the political order. Indeed, the identification of fundamentalists as leaders in an American ‘culture war’ did not achieve currency until the most recent period of political mobilization.10

The ‘Clash of Civilisations’ Debate
The confusion surrounding fundamentalism has increased because of the fashionable tendency to regard religion as a surrogate for more encompassing conflicts between entire civilisational regions. While this position has been most closely associated with Samuel Huntington, it has not been lost on Osama bin Laden. In an interview held with bin Laden on 21 October 2001., an al- Jazeera interviewer asked, ‘What is your opinion about what is being said concerning your examples and “the clash of civilisations”? Your constant use and repetition of the word “Crusade” and “Crusader” shows that you… uphold that saying, the “clash of civilisations” .. .’. The questioner did not mention Huntington’s name, nor did bin Laden in his reply. Bin Laden also did not appear to be taken aback by the question. He merely responded that ‘the Jews and America have come up with a fairy-tale that they count to the Muslims, and they’ve been unfortunately followed by the local rulers [of the Muslims J and a lot of people who are close to them, by using “world peace” as an excuse. That is a fairy-tale which has no basis whatsoever!’11

The fact that Huntington’s phrase went unattributed was testimony to the breadth of its spread. The al-Jazeera reporter was not alone in assuming a relationship between it and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’. Huntington himself refers repeatedly to Muslim fundamentalism, as well as fundamentalism in other religious traditions. To the extent that he defines the concept, he understands it to involve ‘new surges in commitment, relevance and practice by erstwhile casual believers… fundamentalist movements arose committed to the militant purification of religious doctrines and institutions and the reshaping of personal, social, and public behaviour in accordance with religious tenets’.12 While Huntington attempts to distinguish ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ from ‘Islamic civilisation’, the distinction is made difficult by his tendency to employ religion as the ‘central defining characteristic’ of civilizations.13

Amartya Sen, one of Huntington’s most astute critics, has pointed out that linking civilisation and religion yields a ‘crude’ category. It fails to account for the many non-religious roles individuals occupy, as well as the variety of religious ideas that can be found even in societies that appear religiously homogeneous. The consequence is to ‘lend… authority to religious leaders seen as spokesmen for their “worlds”. In the process other voices are muffled and other concerns silenced’.14

The common association of fundamentalism with a clash of civilisations is made all the more confusing by the fact that those labelled fundamentalists are frequently in conflict with internal as well as external enemies. While they may confront ‘civilisational’ adversaries, their primary enemies are often those within their own tradition, including its nominal religious authorities. The latter are said to be corrupters of the tradition or the pawns of unbelievers, just as the original Christian fundamentalists castigated fellow Protestants as sell-outs to modernity. However, those commonly called ‘fundamentalists’ may well be hostile to religious authorities who are in no sense ‘liberals’ or ‘modernisers’. This certainly appears to be the case in Saudi Arabia, for example, where mainstream Muslim clerics espouse a Wahhabist Islam that might well be considered fundamentalist to all but such adversaries as bin Laden and his sympathisers.

Where, then, do these considerations leave the concept? Clearly, the more ‘fundamentalism’ is stretched beyond its original meaning, the more attenuated it becomes. Even in its original manifestation, it claimed no single, invariant orientation toward politics, and certainly no mandate for violence. Yet violence motivated and justified by religious beliefs is a sufficiently important concept in America, South Asia and the Middle East that it can hardly be ignored.15 What is usually referred to as ‘fundamentalism’ is in effect any claim to exclusive authenticity within a religious tradition. ‘Fundamentalism’ has been converted into a synonym for ‘religious revivalism’, even though the doctrines espoused by those campaigning, for example, on behalf of more intense religious devotions might have little in common with the fundamentalism of American Protestants. Indeed, religious revivals in the sense of campaigns to intensify religious commitment and observance were features of the American social landscape long before the appearance of fundamentalism.16 The question is, therefore, not one of distinguishing fundamentalists from non-fundamentalists.17 That being the case, the supposed problem of ‘fundamentalist violence’ disappears as such. It is subsumed, along with the violent potential of New Religious Movements, in the larger quest to identify the conditions under which any religious beliefs might become catalysts for violence.

There is little reason to suppose that the religion-violence nexus differs greatly between situations arising out of traditional religions and those that arise from New Religious Movements. The main difference is likely to lie in their identification of adversaries, since members of historic religious traditions have traditional leaderships against which to fight, while newly established groups have a broader range of potential enemies. Both, however, can make claims to exclusive religious authenticity, and both may feel compelled to employ violence under certain circumstances.

The forms of religious violence are clearly changing. Historically rooted inter-communal violence continues, whether between Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Bosnia, Muslims and Hindus in India, or Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. However, in the developed world, it has been superseded as a matter of public concern by religiously driven acts of terror. Their shock value arises from both the nature of the targets (such as the World Trade Center) and the 9ramatically public character of the violence.

Violence as Sacred Drama
The character of the 11 September attacks requires an approach that goes beyond the analysis of beliefs to include the analysis of intentionally dramatic social acts. Analysing social behaviour through the conventions of dramaturgy is neither recent nor novel. Pioneered by Erving Goffman in the late 1950s, dramaturgical analysis applied the concept of ‘performance’ to the task individuals face in presenting themselves to others (their ‘audiences’) in everyday interactions.18 Increasingly, this metaphor is finding its way into examinations of religiously driven terrorism. It appears apt, both because of the public character of terrorist acts with its presumption of a witnessing audience, and because of the centrality of ritual in religious activity. While some religious rituals are performed by the solitary individual, many – the Catholic mass and the Jewish seder, for example – are enacted in collectivities. An additional reason for extending the dramaturgical metaphor is the increasing awareness that many acts of religious terrorism are not obviously instrumental. That is, unlike the hostage-taker who may release captives on the fulfillment of specific demands, the religious terrorist may not demand any specific performance or abstention from potential victims or audience. Indeed, those responsible for acts of religious terrorism often do not claim responsibility for their acts or otherwise identify themselves.

This has led Mark Juergensmeyer to speak of religious terrorism as ‘performance violence’. Juergensmeyer construes acts of terror as played out before audiences and therefore meant to be witnessed. He also suggests that they are ‘performative’, in the sense that in addition to their symbolic meaning, they possess ‘a certain power of their own’.19 Thus they possess both theatrical and numinous qualities. Their theatricality is inherent in their dramatic, public character, while the numinous quality comes from the quasi-magical power they are believed to manifest, channel or liberate.

The element of performance is easier to see, for it is most often conveyed in vivid images, none more so than those of 11 September. Terrorism-as-spectacle, and therefore as performance, may explain the seemingly grotesque characterisations of 11 September offered to the press by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and the British artist Damien Hirst. At a press conference in Hamburg on 16 September 2001, Stockhausen reportedly called the World Trade Center attack ‘the biggest work of art’. The phrase, however, was used in the context of statements attributing the attacks to Lucifer, an attribution generally omitted in press coverage. By the time Stockhausen pointed out the omission, however, he had been pilloried in the world press.20 At about the same time, in an interview with BBC’ Online, Hirst called the attack ‘visually stunning… I think the idea of looking at the 11 September attacks as an artwork is a very difficult thing to do. But I don’t think artists look at it in a different way’. He quickly apologised, saying that ‘As a human being and artist living in the civilised world I value human life above all else and abhor all acts of terrorism and murder’.21 However insensitive and ill-advised Stockhausen’s and Hirst’s comments may have been, they drew attention to the apocalyptic imagery from New York, differentiating the 11 September attacks from prior terrorist incidents.

Stockhausen and Hirst were not alone in groping for an understanding of 11 September imagery. Lee Harris saw the targets in dramaturgical terms as ‘gigantic props in a grandiose spectacle in which the collective fantasy of radical Islam was brought vividly to life’. They functioned as elements in the theatre of performance violence. Harris also recognised that al-Qaeda ‘is not engaged in Clausewitzian warfare’, in which military assets are deployed for calculated strategic advantage. Instead, ‘we are fighting an enemy… whose actions have significance only in terms of his own fantasy ideology’.22 Harris, however, has moved from the performed to the performative – to acts potent in themselves irrespective of their visible consequences. The power lies in the doing rather than in the observable effects.

Yet the centrality of the performative is obscured by tying it to a ‘fantasy ideology’. No matter how bizarre a belief system appears to onlookers, it is regarded as real by those who hold and act upon it. Describing it as ‘fantasy’ relegates its holders to the realm of illusion and, ultimately, pathology. Doing so carries serious risks. First, it implies that the beliefs hold no attraction for rational individuals, only for some morbid minority. Hence we are unprepared when such beliefs attract large and functional constituencies. Second, virtually all religious belief systems can seem fantastic to non-believers, whether or not they lead to violence. Third, dismissing beliefs as fantasies destroys the possibility of explaining the link between those beliefs and the violence which follows, since the one is normally a logical product of the other.

The Apocalypse as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
The volatility of exclusive claims has often resulted from believers’ conviction that they themselves could produce the millennial end of time. The obvious implications this held for peace and order led most traditional religious authorities, to oppose it. For example, throughout much of Jewish history, there was an aversion to those termed ‘Forcers of the End’, persons who believed their own actions could bring the Messiah. Instead, rabbinic authorities ‘remov[ed] Messianism into the realm of pure faith and inaction, leaving the redemption to God alone and not requiring the activity of men’.23 In similar fashion, official Church doctrine since the time of Augustine emphasized the symbolic rather than the literal meaning of millenarian prophecies and insisted that ‘no man knows the day or the hour’. Despite such opposition, there has been no shortage of ‘Forcers of the End’, both in historic religious traditions and New Religious Movements. Robert Jay Lifton places Aum Shinrikyo, the perpetrators of the 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack, in precisely this category. However, unlike Judaism and Christianity, whose authorities were usually hostile to activist millennialism, Aum’s action orientation emanated from the prophet himself. As a close disciple of Shoko Asahara remarked: ‘It was our practice to fulfil his prophecy, and under his direction Aum Shinrikyo was militarised as a means of accomplishing his prophecy’.24

Few religious leaders have been as direct as Shoko Asahara in demanding that followers bring prophecies to fulfilment. However, the temptation of self-fulfilment is always latent in millenarian thinking. It exists in tension with that quietism to which Gershom Scholem referred. The oscillation of American Protestant fundamentalism between quietism and activism, described earlier, reflects this tension.

Fundamentalists have always been believers in the end of time, although they did not all subscribe to the same millenarian ideas. Fundamentalists differed too on the behaviour these beliefs entailed. For some, no special action was required, and the end of history remained in God’s hands. In its early days, fundamentalism eschewed violence, but by the 1980s, small coteries, for whom the final days were a time to take up arms, had broken away. Among the latter were Christian Identity believers, who saw themselves approaching a racial Armageddon against non-whites and Jews;25 and among the ‘absolute rescue’ wing of the anti-abortion movement, for whom the legalisation of abortion was a sign of the coming end.26

The reason for this inconsistency is that the potentially violent believer is engaged in two processes. First, there is the interaction with those who can confer or withhold religious legitimation of behaviour. Second, there is the interaction with those forces deemed to be hostile or evil. Issues of violence turn in part on understandings of doctrines and texts. Even those who consider themselves literalists where sacred texts are concerned, engage in interpretation, albeit in unacknowledged ways. In religious traditions with decentralised and potentially competing authorities, it is often possible to locate someone willing to provide the necessary religious warrant for violence. In some cases, the believer first desires to commit the act and then searches for a legitimater. In other cases, an individual first comes in contact with a religious justification for violence and then decides to act upon it.

The relationship between the legitimating authority and the violent actor makes conventional conceptions of fundamentalism far less meaningful. For such conceptions usually rest on the assumption that a coherent group of fundamentalists claiming a religious vision of superior authenticity confronts traditional custodians of the tradition, viewed as lax and compromised. However, at least where attributions of fundamentalist violence are concerned, the reality is often far different. For the anti-traditionalists may themselves be splintered into a pluralistic array of doctrinal positions, among which some may justify violence and others may not.

The second type of interaction is with those ‘others’ from whom the believer distinguishes him/herself – non-believers, governmental authorities, backsliders and heretics. In the context of those interactions, beliefs that have received an authority’s seal can have catalytic importance. Indeed, the result may be the kind of interaction David Bromley calls ‘dramatic denouements’.27 These occur ‘when a movement and some segment of the social order reach a juncture at which one or both conclude that the requisite conditions for maintaining their core identity and collective existence are being subverted and that such circumstances are intolerable’.28 Although Bromley’s concern is with crises that involve New Religious Movements, the concept of the dramatic denouement seems just as applicable to putatively fundamentalist groups.

These conclusions rest upon perceptions of threat rather than objective dangers. In the eyes of outside observers, either a religious group or its adversaries may incorrectly estimate the danger the other poses or the intractability of its position. What matters, however, is not some presumed ‘real’ danger, but rather the way a particular actor evaluates danger, since for that actor, the perception is the reality.

Bromley proposes that dramatic denouements can end in one of three ways: through capitulation, in which one party yields to the other; through exodus, where one party withdraws from the other’s domain; or through battle, resulting in one party’s domination or destruction.29 The first is not relevant to our purposes, since it implies a non-violent resolution. The second represents the quietism that characterised American fundamentalists prior to the late 1970s. It is the third, consequently, that demands attention, since it is the contingency associated with religiously based violence.

As Eugene Gallagher has pointed out, neither beliefs nor interactions by themselves are sufficient to produce violence, although cases may be found in which one or the other appears primary.30 More commonly, a combination appears more likely to generate violent outcomes.

Playing Out Apocalyptic Scripts
Such clashes are often facilitated by a group’s millenarian beliefs. In the broadest sense, these constitute a set of expectations about imminent, this-worldly transformation.31 Such beliefs can become more volatile when they are expressed as an anticipated sequence of events that includes one or more violent struggles. Millenarian beliefs can therefore take the form of elaborate ‘scripts’ or ‘scenarios’ that describe a multi-stage sequence of events. It is not always clear whether believers regard such conditions as merely necessary or as both necessary and sufficient for the final consummation. The sensitivity of the issue arises because of its implications for God’s omnipotence, for if human events can be manipulated in a way that ‘forces the end’, human actors may be seen as having usurped the deity’s role. The more firmly a group comes to believe that it controls the dynamics of prophetic fulfilment, the more likely that its actions will include or precipitate violence. This conviction of control appears to contradict the stereotypical conception of fundamentalism as doctrinally rigid and textually literalist. These characteristics are in part reflections of claims to exclusive religious authenticity. However, they mask significant elements of uncertainty.

While those commonly deemed fundamentalists claim ultimate fidelity to sacred texts, the meaning they extract from the texts can change over time. It does so because for believers in ultimate religious authenticity, the final meaning is often encoded in the text. That is, in addition to the plain meaning, there may be a concealed, esoteric meaning accessible only to the spiritually advanced. Some individuals are deemed to possess a greater ability than others to uncover this hidden meaning. This meaning is deemed to be singular. Once found, it supersedes all others. However, the believer may run through a large number of proposed meanings which are serially rejected as mere approximations of the ultimate, encoded meaning. Like manifestations of platonic archetypes, religious meanings can be sequentially discarded in favour of new ones that more fully unveil hidden truths.

At the same time, the search for meaning does not take place in a vacuum. Rather, it occurs in the context of external events. These may include a variety of events regarded as salient by believers, including political developments, the actions of law enforcement, natural calamities and trends in popular morals and culture. Hence the meaning distilled by religious authorities is always read against these external events, in order to interpret the significance of what has occurred. At the same time, complex, ambiguous or dramatic events place pressures on believers to draw appropriate lessons from them.

In short, judgements about the apocalypse are the result of a complex reciprocal process, which involves both the search for the authoritative meaning of texts and the need to assess events in religious terms. The process is reinforced by the fact that many of those who gravitate to such groups are ‘seekers’, individuals with life histories characterised by migration from one affiliation to another in search of absolute truth and meaning.

A key element in this reciprocal process is the presence of an apocalyptic scenario. The scenario performs two functions: first, as noted earlier, it establishes the necessary and/or sufficient conditions for world-transformation; and second, it assigns roles to various actors. Critical roles may be identified not only for the deity and the forces of evil, but for believers themselves. To the extent that believers are given tasks in this cosmic division of labour, they cease to be onlookers and become potential combatants. Indeed, the multiplicity of available meanings, already discussed, may become biased in favour of those that most convincingly provide believers with an active role.

The bias in favour of activism is particularly likely to emerge in situations where the flow of events appears to confirm apocalyptic imminence. In other words, the ‘signs and portents’ by which believers chart eschatological events can be read in ways that suggest an imminent breakthrough.32 This may take the form of events in the natural world (earthquakes, for example), but signs that other actors are playing the roles assigned to them in the apocalyptic scenario can be even more powerful. The Branch Davidians clearly believed that the actions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation demonstrated that they were playing out pre-ordained end-time roles.

The sense of imminence heralds a brief period of intense movement activity, centred not only on the meaning of the signs but on the behaviour deemed necessary. As David Bromley observes, divergent interpretations are likely to result in a power struggle in which those deemed to be deviants are destroyed or expelled. Once doctrinal homogeneity has been achieved, a point comes where a final determination is made about the actions believers need to take, the stage of closure that Bromley calls ‘sealing’.33 Such crisis situations necessarily put doctrine into flux, for its meaning is shaped not only by the usual institutional factors but by dramatic changes in the group’s situation vis-a-vis its adversaries. Whether the outcome will be retreat or confrontation cannot be readily predicted. Although sealing implies an eventual commitment to some irrevocable position, until, that point is reached, there is likely to be a brief but hectic period of fluidity as beliefs are tested against circumstances.
Once the sealing has occurred and an authoritative orientation has been adopted, the movement looks much as the stereotype of fundamentalism would suggest: intolerant of change, unquestioningly loyal, faithful to a single set of textual interpretations, with a consistent attitude toward the outside world, whether of separation or conflict. This occurs, however, as a stage in a process, not because a movement possesses certain innate characteristics. The process therefore includes periods of both plasticity and solidification.

The same process may be found in both New Religious Movements (with which Bromley was principally concerned) and putatively fundamentalist movements within historic religious communities. Neither is unchanging; both respond to perceived eschatological cues in their environment. If fundamentalists appear different, it is only because they define themselves against opponents within their own religious communities, as well as against those outside it. However, the alternating periods of doctrinal modification and consolidation occur in both cases.

In the nineteenth century it was widely believed that ‘excessive’ religious devotion (or ‘enthusiasm’ as it was then called) might lead to insanity. This was held to be the case not only by psychiatrists, but also by conventional believers. From it sprang the legend, for example, that the millennialists who accepted William Miller’s predictions of the Second Coming in the early 1840s ended up in asylums.34 While we tend to smile patronisingly at such ideas today, imputations of fundamentalist violence are often scarcely more sophisticated.

In the interest of clarity, it might be better to retire ‘fundamentalist’ to the lexicon of abandoned terms, in the same manner as the equally dubious ‘cult’. However, the former is doubtless too entrenched in both common and academic usage to permit such a simple solution. At the least, statements about the political behaviour of religious believers need to be handled with great care. There is no simple, unilinear relationship between violence on the one hand, and religious variables on the other; whether the religious characteristics involve charismatic leadership, textual literalism, charges of official laxity or resistance to compromise.

Analytical problems have been exacerbated by the compartmentalisation of research. As a result, ‘fundamentalisms’ emerging out of historic religious traditions and ‘cults’ /New Religious Movements, of a more innovative character, have stimulated separate literatures. Without ignoring the differences, it seems clear that the same level of individual commitment and conflictual relationships with the environment can occur in both. Both, too, have engendered sharp polemics from opponents, whether in the form of the anti-cult movement or opposition to fundamentalist political aims. These polemics have often become entwined with the work of analysis, to the detriment of both.

1. J. Gordon Melton and David G. Bromley, ‘Challenging Misconceptions About the New Religions-Violence Connection’, in David G. Bromley and J. Gordon Melton (eds.), Cults, Religion, and Violence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p.42.
2. John R. Hall, with Philip D. Schuyler and Sylvaine Trinh, Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe, and Japan (London: Routledge, 2000); Catherine Wessinger, How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven’s Gate (New York: Seven Bridges, 2000).
3. Walter Laqueur, ‘Postmodern Terrorism’, Foreign Affairs 75 (September-October 1996), pp.24-36; Walter Laqueur, The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
4. ‘Religion and Terrorism’, interview with Bruce Hoffman, 22 February 2002, Religioscope, http://www.religioscope.com/info/articles/OO 3 _H offman_terrorism.htm, accessed 26 September 2002.
5. James R. Lewis, ‘Safe Sects? Early Warning Signs of “Bad Religions”‘, http://www.religioustolerance.org/safe sec.htm, accessed 1 November 2002; Robert lay Lifton, Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism (New York: Henry Holt, 1999); Adam Szubin, Carll. Jensen III and Rod Gregg, ‘Interacting with “Cults”: A Policing Model’, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 69 (September 2000), pp.16-24.
6. George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), pp.41, 67.
7. An understanding of Protestant fundamentalism is complicated by imprecise and often overlapping terminology. Fundamentalists may best be understood as the separatist wing of evangelicalism. Non-fundamentalist evangelicals, such as Billy Graham, ate distinguished from fundamentalists less by theological differences than by a willingness to engage with the larger society. Overlapping on both are Pentecostals, set apart by their emphasis on experiential religion and such ‘gifts of the spirit’ as faith-healing and speaking in tongues.
8. Marsden (note 6), p.94.
9. Susan Friend Harding, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
10. James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991).
11. ‘The Unreleased Interview with Osama bin Laden, 21 February 2001’, Religioscope., ,http://www.religioscope.com/info/doc/jihad/ubl_int_l.htm accessed 25 July 2002.
12. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), p.96.
13. Ibid., pp.47, 217.
14. Amartya Sen, ‘A World Not Neatly Divided’, New York Times, 23 November 2001; Amartya Sen, ‘Civilisational Imprisonments’, New Republic, 10 June 2002, pp.28-33.
15. Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, rev. edn. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001).
16. On the separate origins of revivalism, see William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).
17. The trans-cultural conception of fundamentalism advanced by the Fundamentalism Project turns fundamentalism into a procrustean bed in the attempt to do so, seemingly based on the view that the spread of the term to ever more contexts is unstoppable. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (eds.), Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. viii.
18. Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Anchor, 1959).
19. Juergensmeyer (note 15), p.124.
20. ‘Report from Suzanne Stephens to Jim Stonebraker for the Stockhausen Home Page, September 29, 200)’, http://www.stockhausen.org/eyewitness.html, accessed 27 October 2002.
21. ‘Hirst apologises for 11 Sept. comments’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/ arts/2268307.stm, accessed 27 October 2002.
22. Lee Harris., ‘Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology’, Policy Review 114 http://www.policyreview.org/ AUG02/harris_print.html, accessed 2 September 2002.
23. Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism and other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (New York: Schocken, 1971), pp.56-7.
24. Lifton {note 5), p.65.
25. Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement, rev. edn. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
26. Jeffrey Kaplan, Absolute Rescue: Absolutism, Defensive Action and the Resort to Force’, in Michael Barkun (ed.), Millennialism and Violence (London: Frank Cass, 1996) pp.128-63.
27. David G. Bromley, ‘Dramatic Denouements’, in Bromley and Melton (note 1), pp.11-41.
28. Ibid., p.11.
29. Ibid., p.28.
30. Eugene Gallagher, ‘Questioning the Frame: The Canadian, Israeli and US Reports’, in Jeffrey Kaplan (ed.), Millennial Violence: Past, Present and Future (London: Frank Cass, 2002), pp.l09-22.
31. Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, rev. edn. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), p.15.
32. David Rapoport, ‘Messianic Sanctions for Terror’, Comparative Politics 20 (1988), pp.195-211.
33. Bromley (note 27), p.29.
34. Michael Barkun, Crucible of the Millennium: The Burned-Over District of New York in the 1840s (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986), p.41.

source:Source: Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Volume 4 Number 3 Winter 2003., Special Issue: Religious Fundamentalism and Political Extremism Editors:Leonard Weinberg & Ami Pedahzur, A FRANK CASS JOURNAL


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