What are the features of modernity and their role in fundamentalism?

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mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Modernity refers to a modern way of thinking.  The definition of fundamentalism is a belief in a very strict interpretation of scripture.  Considering that religious scriptures are thousands of years old, a conflict automatically exists between the principals of modernity and fundamentalism.  Modernity tends to have a weakening effect on fundamentalism, but can also encourage fundamentalism.

First, let’s examine how modernism can hamper fundamentalism.  In general, there are a number of factors that favor fundamentalism.  These factors can be offset by various features of modernity.  For example, fundamentalism seems to favor societies that have a large number of youths.  It could be suggested that this is because of the naiveté associated with the younger segment of the population.  A basic characteristic of modernity is development and industrialism.  Industrial powers tend to have a more balanced population in terms of age.  In fact, modern industrial cultures tend to have an older population and fewer youths. This characteristic of an older populace tends to counteract fundamentalism.   Industrial, modern nations normally have a secular education system that also works against fundamentalism.   For this reason, fundamentalism does not tend to take root in modern Western nations. 

Democracy, which is a characteristic of modernity, may also hamper the growth of fundamentalism.  Democracies today tend to be very stable and are strong government systems.  The nature of democracy is the rule of majority.  Fundamentalism exists on the fringes of society and is rarely large in number.   Modern democratic cultures also tend to grant gender equality, which most fundamentalist groups would oppose.  For these reasons strong industrial democracies can hamper fundamentalism. 

Different features of modernity can also have the effect of encouraging fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism usually occurs when orthodox members of a religious community feel more isolated from the moderate elements of the religion.  Moderate members of a religious group favor adaptive and evolving religious principals.  Modernity strives for absolute knowledge that is derived from science and inquiry.  Rationality, another characteristic of modernity, is also evident in the more moderate adherents.  These principals of science and rationality do not tend to sit well with religious orthodoxy and orthodox followers may feel compelled to turn to fundamentalism as they feel marginalized.

Despite an outward displeasure by fundamentalists of modernization, the groups tend to favor the use of the tools of modernization to meet their goals.  From modern weapons to modern means of communication like video and social networking, fundamentalism utilizes technology to spread their message.

Having said all of this, it is easy to see that modernism has tremendous positive and negative impact on fundamentalism.