Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fundamentalists crave certainty and reject complexity

Overview Introduction Integral Yoga Sri Aurobindo The Mother Sitemap Fundamentalism Juergensmeyer An-Na'im Lifton Issues Reviews Annotated Documents Further Documents Standpoints Letters Bio Data Integral Yoga Sri Aurobindo The Mother
Feedback about this site may be posted in the comments section to the Announcement of this site at SCIY (login required). Introduction Fundamentalism

Most "fundamentalisms" involve special forms of identity politics, meaning, and labeling, characterized by a quest for certainty, exclusiveness, and unambiguous boundaries, where the "Other" is the enemy demonized. It also reflects a mind-set uncompromising and antirelativist, as one response to the openness and uncertainties of a cosmopolitan world, and [tries] to chart a morally black and white path out of the gray zones of intimidating cultural and religious complexity. — Judith Nagata, Beyond Theology: Towards an Anthropology of ‘Fundamentalism’ (2001), page 481.

Fundamentalism in the broader sense
The reactionary form of religion that is now known as Fundamentalism has its roots in the ancient past, but the term itself is less than a hundred years old. “Fundamentalism” was first applied to a movement within Protestant Christianity that called for a return to the perceived “fundamentals” of Protestant belief, in particular the “inerrancy” or literal truth of the Bible.

Before 1980, the term “fundamentalism” was hardly used outside this Christian context. An occasional historian or social scientist extended the scope of the term to include reactionary movements within Islam, Hinduism, and other religions, but it was not until after the Iranian revolution of 1979 that the term “fundamentalism” entered common parlance in contexts far removed from its Protestant origins. Read more...

Characteristics of the Fundamentalist: A Summary
We now are in a position to arrive at a summary description of the fundamentalist mind set. We will arrange the points noted by Marty, Nagata, Antoun, Lifton and others under two main heads: psychological (dealing with mind set) and practical (dealing with action).
Psychologically, fundamentalists crave certainty and reject complexity. They are obsessed with textual and doctrinal purity. They feel threatened by anything that appears to challenge their assumptions, and are inclined to be authoritarian and oppositional. Exclusivist or anti-pluralist, they are opposed to open discussion. In addition, they are reactionary or anti-evolutionary. Rejecting modernity as a whole, they selectively appropriate aspects of modernity that help them in their action.
Practically, fundamentalists set rigid boundaries and try to control the flow of information. They interpret sacred texts in a way that supports their convictions, and use manipulative language, by which they attempt to rouse the masses. They are not averse to the use of violence. They demonize those they believe to be their enemies, casting themselves as heroes in a great cosmic drama.
In a separate section we will see whether these characteristics are present in the leaders of the anti-Heehs movement and, more generally, among those who are trying to turn the teaching of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother into a narrow religion.

Religious Fundamentalism
The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends ... is the source of all religious fanaticism. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Once considered exclusively a matter of religion, theology, or scriptural correctness, use of the term "fundamentalism" has recently undergone metaphorical expansion into other domains and other forms of absolutist ideological expression, as the previous section has shown. In the public and media portrayal of fundamentalism in particular, political militancy has superseded concern over texts, as one gathers from the identification of fundamentalisms in non-Abrahamic religion zones such as South Asia — for instance, the Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In the present section we focus on religious fundamentalism. Read more...

An Outbreak of Fundamentalism?
Religious fanaticism is something psychologically lowborn and ignorant — and usually in its action fierce, cruel and base. — Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 490

Those who use the term “fundamentalism” to describe the activities of religious groups or individuals must be very clear about what they mean by the word. Over the last thirty years, fundamentalism has ceased to indicate merely a particular sort of textual literalism in religious matters. More and more, it is used to refer to a religious orientation characterized by certain psychological attitudes and habits of action. There are similarities and differences among the meanings of fundamentalist, traditionalist, conservative, zealot, ideologue, and fanatic. Each of these describes in its own way a combination of belief and action that has often made religion a divisive and reactionary force.

Sri Aurobindo never wrote about fundamentalism per se (the term was coined after he had completed his major writings, and during his lifetime was confined to its original context: Protestant Christianity), but when he wrote of religious fanaticism he characterized it in ways that modern writers on fundamentalism would have no difficulty recognizing. He put his finger on the nature of fanaticism and much of what is now called fundamentalism in the sentence quoted above. Though the two words are not synonymous, both fanaticism and fundamentalism tend to be seen as characterized by “lowborn and ignorant” habits of thought and can lead to “fierce, cruel and base” modes of action.

Words with negative connotations often degenerate into vague terms of abuse. Words commonly employed in this way include “fascism” and “fundamentalism”. We wish to avoid any loose and imprecise use of the latter term. We undertake our analysis of the writings of the leaders of a loud and potentially disastrous movement among followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and practitioners or would-be practitioners of their Integral Yoga in a spirit of seriousness, marked not by enmity but by sadness. We find many troubling characteristics in the rhetoric and activities of the leaders of this movement, and believe that there are grounds for regarding their actions, prima facie, as signs of fundamentalism.

In what follows, we will see how closely the claims made and the language used by these individuals approach the characteristics of fundamentalism that are acknowledged by authorities on the subject. In our conclusion, we will consider whether the term “fundamentalism” can rightly be applied to the mindset and actions of these individuals. Read more...

Fundamentalism in the Oxford English Dictionary
The following articles deal with the issue of fundamentalism in a broader context. Their relevance to the problem of fundamentalism in the IY community is indicated in the introductory sections and, and more detail, in subsequent comments that were originally posted at the SCIY blog.

Religious Nationalism and Transnationalism in a Global World
In this essay MARK JUERGENSMEYER looks at the responses to old secular nationalisms, which are under siege precisely at a time when they have themselves been weakened by globalization. Their vulnerability has been the occasion for new ethno-religious politics to step into the breach and shore up national identities and purposes in their own distinctive ways. Some forms of ethno-religious politics are global, some are virulently anti-global, and yet others are content with the attempt to create ethno-religious nation-states.

MARK JUERGENSMEYER is professor of sociology and director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is author or editor of a dozen books, including Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Third edition, California 2003), The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State (California 1993), and Religion and Global Civil Society (Oxford 2005). Read more...

Competing Visions of History
ABDULLAHI A. AN-NA'IM is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law. Originally from Sudan, An-Na'im is a disciple of nationalist leader and Islamic reformer and Sufi, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, who was executed in 1985 by the regime of President Gaafar Nimeiry. Taha's pronouncement of his first political incarceration by the British is reminiscent of Sri Aurobindo's: "When I settled in prison I began to realize that I was brought there by my Lord and thence I started my Khalwah with Him."

An-Na'im's specialties include human rights in Islam and cross-cultural issues in human rights. He is the director of the Religion and Human Rights Program at Emory. He also participates in Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion. An-Naim was formerly the Executive Director of the African bureau of Human Rights Watch. He argues for a synergy and interdependence between human rights, religion, critical thought and secularism, instead of a dichotomy and incompatibility between them.

A crucial point in An-Na'im's fascinating and insightful article "Competing Visions of History in Internal Islamic Discourse and Islamic-Western Dialogue" is the hegemony of the "center" over the "peripheries" as defined in terms of the historical origins of Islam. Pondicherry is the Mecca of the Integral Yoga community. The question Angiras raises in his comment is: does this make Sri Aurobindo the property of the Ashram and India, or does he belong to the world? The attempt by defenders of the faith in Pondicherry to seize control of the representation of Sri Aurobindo on the other side of the globe resembles the hijacking of Islam by the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia. Read more...

Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism
This is an edited excerpt from Chapter 22, titled "Ideological Totalism," of Robert Jay Lifton's book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'Brainwashing' in China. Lifton, a psychiatrist and distinguished professor at the City University of New York, has studied the psychology of extremism for decades. He testified at the 1976 bank robbery trial of Patty Hearst about the theory of "coercive persuasion." First published in 1961, his book was reprinted in 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill and London). Lifton's analysis of "thought-reform" applied to cultic behavior is very instructive in our present space-time. Read more...

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