Understanding Fundamentalism Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Movements by Richard T. Antoun (Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press, 2001. 181 pages.)

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Sophie Gilliat-Ray



From the opening pages of the preface until the last sentence of the conclusion,
this book is well-written, authoritative, and insightful. The author
draws upon some 40 years of rich experience as an anthropologist in the
Middle East and further afield to offer a clear analytical account of fundamentalism
in the three monotheistic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and
Islam. His book also draws upon a decade of teaching and debate about
fundamentalism with undergraduate students at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and the clarity of his writing reflects an appreciation
of the needs and interests of students.
Antoun defines the phenomenon of fundamentalism as “an orientation to
the world, a particular worldview and ethos, and as a movement of protest
and outrage against the rapid change that has overtaken the people of an
increasingly global civilization at the end of the twentieth century.” He argues
that it has defining characteristics wherever it is found: scripturalism (belief
in the literal inerrancy of sacred scripture); the search for purity in an impure
world; traditioning (making the ancient immediately relevant to the contemporary
situation); totalism (taking religion beyond the worship center to
home, school, workplace, bank, and elsewhere); activism (challenging establishments,
both political and religious, sometimes by violent protest); struggle
of good and evil; and selective modernization and controlled acculturation.
These themes are explored in depth over the course of five chapters,
with a sixth chapter based on a case study that presents a recording of conversations
between the author and a “fundamentalist” in Jordan in 1986 ...

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