A Psychological Analysis of Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is a religious movement, a theological & philosophical stand, a political and social force. I regard it most basically as a particular variety of psychological development. Fundamentalists of all religious and political varieties share the same character traits. It is the psychological character of the fundamentalist that is at the root of the ideological interpretation termed "fundamentalism," not an intellectual or spiritual concept.

"Fundamentalist" is a term sometimes used to refer to anyone who is intolerant of other's beliefs. Fundamentalism is "not so much an ideology as it is an attitude, an attitude of intolerance, incivility and narrowness," says Walter Shurden, professor of Christianity and director of the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University. "It is an attitude that says, 'We have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and we are going to impose it on you and control the system so that you will have to knuckle under to it.'" As anyone who has ever attended a meeting of two or more activists can attest, that attitude can be found at all points on the political and religious spectrum.

There are, however, specific traits to what can be called "right wing" fundamentalism (of any religion) that what is sometimes called "left wing fundamentalism" lacks: authoritarianism, sexual guilt, and attitudes toward women and homosexuals.

Psychological traits of fundamentalism:

The life experience of fundamentalist that seems to encourage these traits include:

Fundamentalist groups reinforce these traits:

The Alternative to Fundamentalism

Regardless of belief system, an individual is no longer a "fundamentalist" when one develops:

It is not necessary to abandon all personal faith and beliefs in order to be tolerant of others. The majority of the followers in any of the world's religions are able to hold a strong personal belief and not feel threatened that others hold different beliefs.

How does anyone ever become an ex-fundamentalist? Any or all of these factors seem effective:


On the term "left wing fundamentalists."


Activism & Human Rights

© Anitra L. Freeman / Updated December 13, 2002