Thanks to the people, mostly called Chris, who’ve been contributing to the thread below. We haven’t had nearly enough discussion of the Church Fathers on this blog over the last few years — most blogs, in fact, are deficient in this respect — and that’s something I’d like to encourage.
So, if we look at the tradition of Protestant fundamentalism that took shape in C20th America, then, sure, it doesn’t look much like what we find in the Catholic church. But what if we’re trying — for whatever reason, and it might be a stupid thing to want to do — to develop a workable concept of fundamentalism that can travel across different religious traditions – Christian, Jewish, Islamic, possibly Hindu?
And then the thought that strikes me is that what we associate with fundamentalism isn’t narrow textual literalism per se, partly because — and I really don’t know much about this — while Islamic fundamentalists are keen on their verses from the Qu’ran I’m not sure that they are textual literalists in the manner of Christian Protestant fundies. Here’s a bit of Sayyid Qutb, who people tell me is pretty important in contemporary Islamic fundamentalism(s). It’s taken pretty much at random, but glancing through it, this doesn’t strike me as overly concerned with narrow readings, resisting interpretation, and so on, and I don’t think that American Protestant fundamentalists talk about verses from the Bible in quite this way.
So I wonder whether we’re best off thinking about fundamentalism(s) in terms of a particular kind of claim to religious authority, which often (not always) involves a re-reading of foundational texts, and that this is what makes the idea of Catholic fundamentalism somewhat paradoxical, because Catholicism just is a claim about authority: what it is to be a Catholic (at least as far as the Church is concerned) is to accept the magisterium and so there just isn’t the space within Catholicism to come out and tell the bishops that you’ve got a more authoritative reading of scripture (or whatever) than they have.
And moving away from the idea of textual literalism may also help to think about the idea of Hindu fundamentalisms. I’m inclined to sympathise with the idea that we’re basically talking about “a bunch of political crazies” here (see Chris Y in the comments), and the malleability and whole invented-traditionness of modern Hinduism must be relevant. But it may be that political craziness and the claims to dogmatic authority are more important to a workable concept of fundamentalism than anything else.
(Andrew Vincent from Sheffield was giving a talk in Oxford yesterday about thinking about fundamentalism, and that got me onto thinking about the Catholics. After all, if the Pope’s got the key to heaven, he’s probably got the key to the concept of fundamentalism, too.)