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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.



Fundamentalism(s)

Harriet A. Harris

Identifying Fundamentalism

The term ‘fundamentalism’ was first used in the 1920s by Protestant Christians who sought to defend the fundamental doctrines of their faith. However, the position of these first fundamentalists is best understood not as centring around particular doctrines but as wanting a fundament, or firm foundation, on which to ground faith. This remains true of Protestant fundamentalists today. They take the Bible to be the foundation of their faith, by which they mean that Scripture provides the evidence to justify faith and the data from which to build up the doctrines of their belief system. Their apologetic stance, therefore, is that we must know that the Bible is true before we can go on to say anything else concerning God. Without a reliable Bible, they fear either that they cannot get started in faith, or that their faith must surely collapse. This way of thinking is found amongst both self-proclaimed fundamentalists and a large number of evangelicals.

Since the late 1970s, so-called fundamentalist movements have been identified across the world's faiths. The term ‘fundamentalism’ has now become so elastic that a core definition is difficult to retain. Within Protestant fundamentalism notions of biblical authority must be understood in relation to the foundational status given to Scripture. Other religious resurgent movements around the world are foundationalist in some respect, and many select and absolutize particular interpretations of particular texts. This is so even when their host religion—for example, Hinduism—is not strongly scripturalist. Therefore analysing fundamentalism as biblical or textual foundationalism, as we will do in the following pages, will help illuminate points of comparison and contrast across the fundamentalisms of the world (cf. Harris 2002).

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