Why Fundamentalism?

  • Stephen Cowden
  • Gita Sahgal


This article is intended to generate a discussion about religious fundamentalism. We begin by proposing a definition and arguing for the value of ‘fundamentalism’ as an analytical category that allows the understanding of common political discourses, interventions and practices across different religions and diverse contexts.  We then delineate key components of fundamentalist movements, looking in particular at the construction of a neo-patriarchal political order as a key objective.

We then move to trying to understand why fundamentalism has emerged at this particular point in time.  We argue that the weakening of a commitment to a secular politics has occurred through the convergence of several related factors.  Firstly we see the crisis of both ‘progressive’ versions of nationalism as well as of the political Left (locally and internationally) as having provided a major opportunity for religious fundamentalism, which it has adeptly occupied.  Secondly fundamentalists have interpolated the massively disruptive social changes caused by neoliberal globalisation taking place particularly but not exclusively in the developing world.  Thirdly we see intellectual understanding of the fundamentalist threat to human rights and women’s rights in particular has been significantly impeded by the rise of postmodernism and postcolonialism where the romanticisation of essentialised ‘other-identity’ claims has prevented the development of a critique of the fundamentalist agenda.  


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