Religion and Science:

Religion does not need science and science does not need religion, but man needs both. There are thinkers who believe that science & religion are incompatible with each other, whereas the other thinks otherwise. There are two major opinions regarding the relationship between science and religion-“religion and science are mutually conflicting” and “science and religion are not mutually opposing”.

  1. Religion is based on faith and rituals whereas science depends on observation, experiments, verifications, proofs and facts.
  2. Science deals with the known or the empirical world. But religion is concerned with the unknown or supernatural world.
  3. For summer and Keller, it is difficult to find any type of religion which has welcomed free enquiry.
  4. Science insists that all phenomenon that is observed should not be accepted at face value. Its value and meaning can be discovered through experimentation. All factors (time, place, person, equipment) that can affect the result of such experiments are controlled in laboratory conditions.
  5. Science differs from religion because it believes in neutrality and objectivity. Scientific method is claimed to have annulled the subjective biases. Science believes in precision and measurement which is not possible for religion.
  6. Science brings the unknown to the level of observable reality. Religion cannot bring God to the level to observable phenomena. Scientific knowledge has more concrete application in the form of the technology which might help in manipulating nature. Religion cannot establish such concrete and immediate result.
  7. Scientific knowledge and method are valid universally whereas principle of religious life differs from society to society.
  8. Kingsley Davis advocates that religion withers like a leaf before a flame when the scientific attitude is brought to bear on it.

However those who say that SCIENCE AND RELIGION ARE NOT OPPOSING believe that :

  1. Science deals with what is known. It is potential knowledge based on sensory evidence. Religious beliefs refer to the world beyond the senses. The knowledge which cannot be proved by the methods of science, cannot be disproved also.
  2. Religion is social reality. The persistence of religion throughout the ages is proof of its survival value. It has rendered undeniable services to the humanity and is still serving. Religion like other institutions has its roots in certain human needs. Hence it was felt to be a necessity and continues to be a necessary thing. If religion is construed as nothing but belief in superhuman force or power, it remains incompatible with science. If on the other hand it is understood as a kind of ethical philosophy serving
    1. H.E. Barnes says that even if there exists conflict between fundamentals of religion and modern science none exists between the later and humanism because the humanists frankly base their religion upon the findings of the science.
    2. Religion in its real sense is not conflicting with science. It is only the dogma or theology or the distorted version of religion that conflicts with science. If the religion respects and accepts the values of science and if science recognizes and accepts the reality and necessity of religion, then there could be no conflict between religion and science.
    3. Even if there is conflict between religion and science, the main cause of conflict is that boundary between the two is shifting what was unknown yesterday is known today. The scientific pursuit of empirical truth is opposed to religious pursuit of non-empirical truth.
    4. Both are two facets of life. One touches soul while other indicates material advancement. Religion gives peace to scientifically advanced and worried society. Both try to pierce into the realm of unknown. Thus, conflicts and compatibility of religion and science cannot be studied is an isolated manner as development of science can provide base for the interpretation of ideas of religion. Science is a search for knowledge as well as method of solving problems.
    5. Both religion and science are forms of human understanding. Both science and religion are human ways to relating themselves to reality.
    6. Both science and religion try to make explicit the world of unknown. Religion is more collectively oriented than science, but science too emphasizes team spirit and cooperation of scientific community. Both science and religion claim access to truth.
    7. On many occasions in past as well as present, both science as well religion have acted against human kind. Both religion and science prescribe qualification for their personnel.
    8. Max Weber too considers religion as the root cause of rise of capitalism subsequent to industrialization and technological development.
Science is considered as inquisitive, deliberativeReligion is considered as imaginative and speculative
Science drives man to shape his own destinyReligion push man towards fatalism
Science believes in precision and measurementReligion has no such provisions
Science brings the unknown to the level of observable realityReligion often depicts God as beyond reach of normal human beings
Science is liberating and enlightening and promotes questioning of everythingReligion binds individuals and promotes status quo and tradition
Science is based on rationalityReligion is based on the belief in sacred
Science promotes individual innovations, though team works are also thereReligion is more collectively oriented
Scientific knowledge and method are valid universallyReligious principles are accepted within a particular community only which believe in those principles


Bryan Wilson defines secularization as ‘the process whereby religious thinking, practice and institutions lose social significance’. Like all key concepts in sociology, the concept of secularization has been used in a variety of ways.

  1. In other words, secularization is the process in which social institutions gain considerable autonomy and religious consciousness declines whereby instead of being the pervasive, religion becomes “a deportment of the social order”. Wilson gives three features of a secular society:
    • The prevalence of Instrumental Values
    • The prevalence of Rational Procedures
    • The prevalence of Technological Methods.
  2. Peter Berger defines secularization as the “process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols”.
  3. Harvey co
    • Urbanization
    • Pragmatism
    • This worldliness attitude.
    • Pluralism Tolerance.
In General Secularization is indicative of the following changes:
  • Withdrawal of religion from social spheres like education, marriage etc.
  • Development of pluralism in world views
  • Emergence of rational and scientific view
  • Development of critical consciousness.


Secularism: on the other hand, can be defined on the basis of three perspectives

  1. People-Centric,
  2. State-centric and
  3. India-centric (in the context of India)
  1. People-centric secularism emphasizes on the idea of separating religion from politics, economy, education, social life and culture.
  2. State-centric secularism emphasis on the need to keep the state protector to all religions.
  3. India-centric secularism underlines the importance of the unity of all people against communalism.

Secularism being an ideology consists of the following five ideas:

  1. It stresses on human autonomy. It recognizes individual to be master of his own life. Human beings are responsible for their own destinies. It places faith on human rationale, rather than divine guidance.
  2. It asserts that separation of religion from states and stresses that family relations, education, morality, knowledge and values are also free from clutches of religion.
  3. It puts stress on reason and inquiry.
  4. Secularism welcomes pluralism and religious toleration. Pluralism of religion is supported by an attitude of tolerance towards other religions.
  5. It is not anti-religion.

Secularism : European experience :

Secularism was the main goal of reformation and the renaissance that took place in Europe in 15th and 16th centuries. Martin Luther, the principal initiator of the protestant reformation, had advocated that it is the right of individual to understand the words of God without taking the guidance of the church.

  1. Reformation was basically a religious movement which later on becomes reactionary. Two important features or effects of reformation were:
    • It did not produce more toleration and religious liberty.
    • Illiterate masses i.e. popular masses were unaware of the reformation process religion continued to be a mainstay of talk.
  2. The renaissance advocated rational thinking and challenged the theological uses of cosmos. To make this idea reachable to people, mass education, free press and social movement were used. Charles brad laugh, the great secularist, belived that extensive propaganda played crucial role in ensuring secularization.

Secularization Process:

Secularization for its development required social milieu. It can be further elaborated in the following way:

  1. In the context of feudal lords and bourgeoisie: In England and the Netherland, the conflict between feudal lands and bourgeoisie started in eighteenth century. Feudal lords led a lavish life. They made huge donation to religious institutions and these institution prayed to God for lord’s well-being. Bourgeoisie in order to attack feudal lords took the help of scientific and rational outlook. As a. result of which, feudal privileges based on heredity, oppression on the basis of sovereignty the “divine rights” of feudal lords to rule was challenged on rational grounds.
  2. In the content of the capitalist class and the wage-earners : Disraeli divided the capitalist society into two nations viz. the wage earners and the capitalists. The wage-earners were devoid of means of ownership of production. After being paid a subsistence wage, these workers were alienated from the fruits of their labour. They welcomed religion in order to tolerate such a harsh situation. Capitalists also made use of religion to bullet their brutal deeds. They also used religion to pacify violent wage earners. However, in the emerging modern nation states, democracy was proclaimed in England, France etc. The right of freedom of conscience was granted to them which happened to pass through three stages.
    • In first stage people struggled for religious tolerance
    • In second stage religious freedom of conscience was asserted.
    • In third stage genuine freedom of conscience was accomplished.

Secularization and Other Institutions:

  1. The Church of England is subordinate to the British sovereign.
  2. French government shows no preference for any religious group and prohibits clerics from teaching in the public schools.
  3. Monaco, where Catholics comprised 92% of the population in 2000, has implemented the most anti-clergy legislation in the west.
  4. Church property belongs to the state.
  5. Worship services outside the church were forbidden.
  6. The government can open any place of worship and determine the number of clerics in it.
  7. The clergy cannot vote, participate in politics.
  8. The Church cannot own radio and television stations.

Studies of secularization have been classified in terms of some of the many ways in which process has been conceptualized and measured.

1.The decline in organized religious participation:
  1. Some researchers have seen religious institutions and activity associated with them as the key element in religious behaviour. From this viewpoint they have measured the importance of religion in society in terms of factors such as church attendance and marriages performed in church. From such measures they argue that secularization is occurring in most western societies. Wilson argues that, ‘the decline in organized religious participation indicates the way in which the churches are losing direct influence over the ideas and activities of man’.
  2. However, the decline in participation in institutional religion can be interpreted in a number of ways. David martin argues that in Victorian times, church attendance was more strongly motivated by non-religious factors such as middle-class respectability. Today, church attendance is no longer an indication of respectability for many members of the middle class. Thus, their absence from church may have nothing to do with a change in their religious beliefs. Robert n. Bellah argues that the decline in institutional religion cannot be taken as an indication of a decline in religious belief and commitment. Religion today may simply be expressed in a different way. Bellah argues that there has been a move from collective worship to privatized worship and from clerical to individual interpretation of doctrine. He claims that ‘the assumption in most of the major protestant denominations is that the church member can be considered responsible for himself’. While there is little dispute that participation in institutional religion has declined over the past century in most European countries, there is considerable disagreement over the interpretation of this process.
2. Disengagement and differentiation:
  1. A disengagement of the religious organizations from the wider society is seen as secularization. Compared to its role in medieval Europe, the church in contemporary western society has undergone a process of disengagement. In the Middle Ages, there was a union of church and state. Today, apart from the right of bishops to sit in the British house of lords, the church is hardly represented in government. Ecclesiastical control of education and social welfare has been superseded by secular organizations under state control. Church patronage of the arts & architecture was reflected by the fact that most art in the Middle Ages was based on religious themes. Today secular themes predominate.
  2. Bryan Wilson argues that the church of England today provides little more than traditional ritual to dramatize important turning points in the life cycle, namely, birth marriage and death. he sees its disengagement from the wider society as evidence of secularization. an alternative to the view that disengagement equals secularization is provided by
  3. Talcott parsons agrees that the church as an institution has lost many of its former functions. He argues that the evolution of society involves a process of structural differentiation. Various parts of the social system become more specialized and so perform fewer functions.
  4. However, the differentiation of the units of the social system does not necessarily lessen their importance. Parsons argues that religious beliefs still give meaning and significance to life. Churches are still the fount of religious ethics and values. As religious institutions become increasingly specialized, Parsons maintains that their ethics and values become increasingly generalized. In American society they have become the basis for more general social values. Thus, many of the values of American society are at once Christian and American. This has resulted in the ‘endowment of secular life with a new order of religious legitimation’.
3.Religious pluralism:
  1. Some researchers imply that the truly religious society has one faith and one church. Thus, picture is influenced by the situation in some small scale, nonliterate societies, such as the Australian aborigines, where the community is a religious community. In terms of Durkheim’s view of religion, the community is the church. Medieval European societies provide a similar picture. There the established church ministered to the whole society. But now a multiplicity of denominations and sects has replaced common faith and the established church. In particular, it has been argued that a range of competing religious institutions has reduced the power of religion in society.
  2. Bryan Wilson argues that if there are a number of denominations in society, each with its own version of the truth, they can at best only reflect and legitimate the beliefs of a section of the population. In this way, ‘religious values cease now to be community values. Religion no longer expresses and reinforces the values of society as a whole and so ceases to perform its traditional function of promoting social solidarity.
  3. Berger and Luckman make a similar point. Instead of one religious institution with a single, unchallenged view of the supernatural, there are now many with divergent views. Berger argue that the emergence of denominations weakens the influence of religion. No longer is a single ‘universe of meaning’ provided for all members of society. The continuing proliferation of sects has been interpreted by some researchers in much the same way as the spread of denominations. It has been seen as a further fragmentation of institutional religion and the therefore as evidence of the weakening hold of religion over society.
  4. Peter Berger sees the continuing vitality of sects as evidence of a secular society. He argues that belief in the supernatural can only survive in a sectarian form in a secular society. In order to maintain a strong religious belief and commitment, individuals must cut themselves off from the secularizing influences of the wider society and seek out the support of others of like mind. The sect, with its close-knit community organization, provides a context where this is possible. From this viewpoint, the sect is the last refuge of the supernatural in a secular society. Sects are therefore evidence of secularization.
  5. Bryan Wilson takes a similar view maintaining that sects are ‘a feature of societies experiencing secularization, and they may be seen as a response to a situation in which religious values have lost social pre-eminence’. Sects are therefore the last outpost of religion in societies where religious beliefs and values have little consequence.
  6. Bryan Wilson is particularly scathing in his dismissal of the religious movements of the young in the west, such as Krishna consciousness, which emerged during the 1960s in the USA. He regards them as ‘almost irrelevant’ to society as a whole claiming that, ‘they add nothing towards the culture by which a society might live’. By comparison, methodism, in its early days as sects, provided standards and values for the new urban working class, which helped to integrate its. Members within the wider society. In addition, its beliefs ‘steadily diffused through a much wider body of the population’. The new religious movements show no such promise. Their members live in their own enclosed, encapsulated little worlds. There they emphasize ‘hedonism, the validity of present pleasure, the abandonment of restraint and the ethic of “do your own thing”.
  7. Wilson is scornful of their ‘exotic novelty’ which he believes offers little more than self-indulgence, titillation and short-lived thrills. He believes that movements which seek for truth in Asian religions and emphasize the exploration of the inner self, for example Krishna Consciousness, can give little to Western society. They simply ‘offer another way of life for the self-selected few rather than an alternative culture for mankind’. Rather than contributing to a new moral reintegration of society, they simply provide a religious setting for ‘dropouts. They do not halt the continuing process of secularization and are ‘likely to be no more than transient and volatile gestures of defiance’ in the face of a secular society.
4.The secularization of religious institutions:
  1. To Herzberg, ‘authentic religion’ means an emphasis on the supernatural, a deep inner conviction of the reality of supernatural power, a serious commitment to religious teachings, a strong element of theological doctrine and a refusal to compromise religious beliefs and values with those of the wider society. This is just what Herzberg does not find in the established denominations in America. He claims that, ‘denominational pluralism, on the American plan means thorough-going secularization’. The major denominations have increasingly emphasized this world as opposed to the other world, they have moved away from traditional doctrine and concern with the supernatural, they have compromised their religious beliefs to fit in with the wider society. Because of this, they have become more like the secular society in which they are set.
  2. Despite this relatively high level of participation in religious institutions, Herberg argues that it is directed by secular rather than religious concerns. Herberg claims that the major denominations in America have undergone a process of secularization. They increasingly reflect the American Way of Life rather than the word of God. For the typical churchgoer, religion is ‘something that reassures him about the essential rightness of everything American, his nature, his and himself’. But from Herberg’s viewpoint, this has little to do with the real meaning of religion.
  3. Berger and Luckman are in general agreement with herberg’s thesis. Luckman argues that denominations were forced to undergo a ‘process of internal secularization’ in order to survive and prosper in a secular society. If they retained their traditional teachings, their beliefs would no longer have a ‘plausibility structure’ in a changed society. They would appear irrational, irrelevant or contradictory in a new social setting. Denominations have adapted to society and their teachings have, therefore, remained ‘plausible’. However, this has required a sacrifice of considerable religious content.
  4. Peter Berger likens American religious institutions to commodities sold in the marketplace. A successful sales campaign means that ‘’the “supernatural” elements are pushed into the background, while the institution is “sold” under the label of values congenial to secularized consciousness’. denominations have succeeded in attracting full houses ‘by modifying their product in accordance with consumer demands’ that is the demands of a secular society. This accounts for the differences in participation in organized religion between Europe and America. In Europe, religious institutions have remained largely unchanged in the context of changing societies. The result is empty churches. In the USA, religious institutions have adapted to a changing society and the result is full churches.
  5. Herberg’s views on American religion have been criticized by Seymour m. Lipset. He argues that there is some evidence to suggest that evangelical Christianity is growing at a faster rate than the traditional denominations. The debate on the secularization of religious institutions rests ultimately on the observer’s judgment of ‘authentic religion’. Herberg’s view may reveal as much if not more about his beliefs and values than it does about the nature of the religion in the USA.

There is little question among sociologists that considered as a long-term trend, religion in the traditional church has declined in most Western countries – with the notable exception of the USA. The influence of religion has diminished much as nineteenth – century sociologists predicted it would.

Has the appeal of religion lost its grasp with the deepening of modernity? Such a conclusion would be questionable for a number of reasons:

  1. First, the present position of religion in Britain and other Western countries is much more complex than supporters of the secularization thesis suggest. Religious and spiritual belief remain powerful and motivating forces in many people’s lives, even if they do not choose to worship formally through the framework of the traditional church. Some scholars have suggested that there has been a move towards ‘believing without belonging’ (Davie) – people maintain a belief in God or a higher force, but practice and develop their faith outside institutionalized forms of religion.
  2. Second, secularization cannot be measured according to membership in main stream Trinitarian church by the Communist leadership. This enthusiastic support for religion around the globe is, unfortunately, mirrored by religiously inspired conflicts as well. Just as religion can be a source of solace and support, it has also been and continues to be at the origin of intense social struggles and conflicts.
  • One can point to evidence both in favour of and against the idea of secularization. It seems clear that secularization as a concept is most useful in explaining changes that are occurring within the traditional religion today- both in terms of the declining power and influence and in regard to internal secularizing processes affecting, for example, the role of women and gays. Modernizing forces in society at large are being felt within many traditional religious institutions.
  • Above all, however, religion in the late modern world should be evaluated against a backdrop of rapid change, instability and diversity. Even if traditional forms of religion are receding to a degree, religion still remains a critical force in our social world. The appeal of religion, in its traditional and novel forms, is likely to be long-lasting. Religion provides many people with insights into complex question about life and meaning that cannot be answered satisfactorily with rationalist perspectives.

Religious revivalism (& Secularisation):

Religious revivalism is term applied to mass movements which are based upon intense religious upheaval. Periodic religious revivals which seek to restore commitment and attachment to the group are a regular observable feature of religious traditions.

  1. Revivalism happened in 18th century in western society among methodists. In India Arya samaj is one of the most important revivalist movements which were based on Shuddhi movement. It aimed at converting Hindus back to the fold who had converted to other religions. This had profound impact on Hindu especially lower caste Hindus. They sought to other religions to improve their social status. They also gave equality to women especially in education.
  2. One view shared by early sociological thinkers was that traditional religion would become more and more marginal to the modern world. Marx, Durkheim and weber all believed that a process of secularization was bound to occur as societies modernized and became more reliant on science and technology to control and explain the social world..

Secularization describes the process whereby religion loses its influence over the various spheres of social life.

  1. The debate over the secularization thesis is one of the most complex areas in the sociology of religion. In the most basic terms, there is disagreement between supporters of the secularization thesis who agree with sociology’s founding fathers and see religion as diminishing in power and importance in the modern world and opponents of the concept, who argue that religion remains a significant force, albeit often in new and unfamiliar forms.
  2. The enduring popularity of new religious movements presents a challenge to the secularization thesis. Opponents of the thesis point to the diversity and dynamism of new religious movements and argue that religion and spirituality remains a central facet of modern life.
  3. As traditional religions lose their hold, religion is not disappearing, but is being channelled in new directions. Not all scholars agree, however. Proponents of the idea of secularization point out that these movements remain peripheral to society as a whole even if they make a profound impact on the lives of their individual followers. New religious movements are fragmented and relatively unorganized; they also suffer from high turnover rates as people are attracted to a movement for some time and then move on to something new. Compared to a serious religious commitment, they argue, participation in a new religious movement appears little more than a hobby lifestyle choice.
  4. Revivalism of Catholicism in case of America, glorified Hindutva ideology in case of India is emerging as the major challenges to the pluralistic doctrine of modern society. Therefore, Rodney stark rightly points out that religion is not only providing a source for integration. It is instrumental for the social division as well. Taking this viewpoint into consideration one can offer a critic to Cometian argument that in modern society use of science will continue for the decline of religion. In reality religion is a universal force, it appears in different forms in the history of human society differently influencing to political, social & cultural life of man in a multidimensional manner.
  5. In contemporary context the rise of religious consciousness or the growth of religious revivalism is offering a major challenge to the pluralistic secular & egalitarian character of the civil society.

Causes of Religious Revivalism:

  1. New insecurities and alienation that arise out of migration and urbanisation in a globalised world are driving more people to religion as a way of establishing their identities and validating their experiences
  2. There is a revival of institutional religions across the world. In different parts of the world religion has become more visible, both in its institutional form and as an assertion of identity. This increasing prominence of religion and new forms of religious formations can be located in the social psychology of communities and people who are undergoing socio-economic and cultural transitions.
  3. One of these transitions is the unprecedented migration of communities and the increasing perception that there is socio-cultural and economic inequality across the world. There is an increasing sense of multiple layers and a process of alienation emerging out of multiple levels of ‘dislocations’ of the self, community and identity. The increasing trends of urbanisation, of migrations within and beyond country borders, consumerism and the aggressive construction of images in the context of globalisation of the media, have created a new sense of individual and collective insecurity and alienation.
  4. However, the relative visibility of institutional religion may be due also to the increasing role of the ‘image’ industry, rather than true conversion or transformation of people from one faith to another. Religion has many manifestations and we often tend to confuse institutionalised religion with other aspects of religion (personal experience, belief, theology etc).
  5. The revival of institutionalised religion is partly due to the high visibility it has gained in the media explosion of the last ten years. As institutionalised religions are historically strong in terms of institutionalised resources (money, network, people, structures etc) they can make greater use of the new media, particularly television, to acquire more visibility. The number of genuine Christians (in terms of personal experience of a preferred personal faith) might not have increased, but certainly TV marketing of faith has increased manifold. And the new visibility of ‘images’ can create new delusions and illusions of an accentuated religion without the necessary ‘spiritual’ transformation in the lives of people.
  6. Then there are new insecurities arising out of social, economic and political transitions and the consequent feeling of alienation they engender. For example, there is enough evidence that those who belong to migrant communities tend to be more religious. The reasons could be partly sociological and cultural. The same way I feel happy to meet an Indian or South Asian in Oslo, a Sudanese would like to meet fellow Sudanese. The nodal points of such an identity network often tend to be religious venues. So, Tamil people residing abroad may come to know each other in a temple, Bangladeshis in a Bengali mosque etc. This is to do with relative marginalisation (in terms of space, cultural comfort zone etc) of migrant communities.
  7. There are also economic and social insecurities that arise out of the tension of losing a job or being alone in a multicultural environment. These too add to the quest for a ‘sense of belonging’, and ‘identity’ gets accentuated when one feels marginalised in a given context. So many of the first generation of Malayali migrants often feel more strongly about ‘being a Malayali’ than those who live in Kerala. Hence the proliferation of Malayali organisations in the Gulf countries and elsewhere (and many literary awards and Malayalam blogs etc). This also often takes a religious/denominational (caste, creed etc) dimension among newly urbanised or migrant communities.
  8. There is a new sense of alienation due to increased ‘individuation’, and the consequent feeling of being lonely and insecure. This has an age-related dimension — when one is too young (increased anxiety about jobs) and when one is into middle age (the fear of losing a job, falling sick etc).
  9. This sense of insecurity has something to do with the new consumerism and globalisation of the economy, where expectations about oneself (as a consumer who would like to ‘possess’ certain comforts) and the consequent insecurity that emanates from the new ‘hire and fire’ culture of globalisation creates new insecurity. So here too one often finds more young people and those who cross middle age tending to seek solace in new spiritual markets of various sorts — from Deepak Chopra to the tele-marketing of pop-gurus of various sorts.
  10. In the case of countries and communities where there is a social disintegration of erstwhile collective institutional structures (eg tribal communities in Africa, or joint families, or the old neighbourhood parish or temple) there is scope for new network-based identity formation. It is in such a space that networked religion and cell-churches grew exponentially. This process of social disintegration of erstwhile structures and the process of ‘collective spaces of sharing’ also happened due to the unprecedented trend of urbanisation and the movement/migration of people across countries and the world. So the shifts from joint families to post-nuclear families and tribal collectivism also created new forms of individuation and multiple forms of dislocation and resultant alienation.
  11. It is in this context that institutionalised religions get transformed into ‘spiritual’ or ‘solace’ or ‘feel-good’ modules of customised products in the spiritual marketplace. This network mode of marketing helps to get consumers hooked on psycho-pills of well-packaged and customisedreligion of various sorts. In the context of Christianity, the Charismatic movement and its network forms ‘customised’, ‘personalised’ and ‘flexible’ modules of packaged and commodified ‘spiritualism’ which is lapped up by a new market of relatively more ‘lonely’ and insecure people. That is one of the reasons why prosperity gospel is doing so well in relatively poor African communities in Africa as well as America. Prosperity gospels and ‘healing’ ministries and ‘miracle’ crusades all work on the new insecurities among people and communities who are in a state of transition.
  12. We are in the midst of an unprecedented transition in the history of the world and in terms of sociological and cultural shifts. In such phases of transition insecurities and alienation take on new forms — social, economic and political. This also creates a new sense of inequality. At an individual level, the most convenient thing is to find one’s own sense of ‘belonging’ by identifying with communities who have a shared sense of belonging. Such belonging can be based on colour, creed or religion. The biggest and oldest institutionalised structure of belonging happens to be institutionalised religion. Adapted to the new technology, media, and globalised network, institutionalised religion thus ‘services’ its new ‘clients’ by using the same old pill but with new modes of delivery.
  13. Then there is also a new sense of political insecurity that emanates from ‘accentuated identities’ (majority and minority) that create a sense of insecurity (for example when young Australians find it difficult to find jobs, they may feel that Indians are stealing their jobs and then Indians begin to mobilise on the basis of being Indians).
  14. Such accentuated identities often become defensive in the minority context. So, a young Muslim in Europe or UK may feel more ‘Muslim’ than the Muslim in Dubai. Christians in Europe may feel ‘less Christian’ than the Christians in India or China. The ongoing war in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the new political tensions with Iran or North Korea, are all a residual accentuation of the post-cold war period of the new geo-politics. And here, too, recent history is replayed in multiple forms of colonialism and imperialism.
  15. Post-cold war politics moved from ‘ideological’ war to ‘identity’-based contestations in many cases. The political economy of such identities gets accentuated among migrant communities. When identity, in its soft or hard form, tends to be the sub-text of macro and micro politics, ordinary people often fall back on the most convenient and accessible network of identity. So there is an increasing assertion of ‘Muslim’ identity even among those Muslims who have a rather moderate or liberal approach to religion. There is an assertion of ‘Hindu’ identity where Hindus are in a minority. Such assertions of identity are often cultural defence mechanisms that emanate from social and cultural insecurities and a sense of alienation.


Fundamentalism stresses the infallibility of a scripture (e.g. the Bible, the Granths, the Gita or the Quran) in all matters of faith and doctrine. The believers accept it as a literal historical record. The result is that sometimes a militant stand is taken by the followers, often preceded or followed by a desire for a separate homeland. At times, this too is taken as a prophecy in the scriptures.

  1. Fundamentalism separates a certain community from the mainstream. However, society, by its various arms (the police, army and so on), attempts to suppress or eliminate the fundamentalist. This is especially so when they begin acting outside of the law. Communalism is associated with eruption of violence and riots these conflagrations may not have any particular aim or goal (apart from communal ascendancy or supremacy).
  2. Fundamentalism however is an organized all-encompassing movement which aims to promotion of society goals especially in the light of religious enshrinements. Operational strategy includes peaceful as well as war-like uses and movements.
  3. Social Anthropologist Lionel Caplan (1987) defines fundamentalism as a belief in the timelessness of sacred writings and a belief that such writings apply to all kinds of environments. In its popular usage, the term fundamentalism is applied to a wide array of religious groups around the world.
  4. The most important characteristic of fundamentalists is their belief that a relationship with God, Allah, or some other supernatural force provides answers to personal and social problems. In addition, fundamentalists often wish to “bring the wider culture back to its religious roots.”
  5. Fundamentalists usually conceive of history as a “process of decline from an original ideal state,” which includes the “betrayal of fundamental principles”.
  6. Fundamentalists do not distinguish between what is sacred and what is profane in their day-today lives. Religious principles govern all areas.
  7. It is not surprising then, that during times of rapid change, many people look for and finds answers and calm in religion. Fundamentalism is perhaps the clearest example of this phenomenon. Yet, increasingly, religious responses to change are occurring in new and unfamiliar forms: new religious movements, cults, sects and ‘New Age’ activities. While these groups may not ‘look like’ forms of religion on the surface, many critics of the secularization hypothesis believe that they represent transformations of religious belief in the face of profound social change.
  8. The strength of religious fundamentalism is another indication that secularization has not triumphed in the modern world. The term fundamentalism can be applied in many different contexts to describe strict adherence to a set of principles or beliefs. Religious fundamentalism describes the approach taken by religious groups which call for the literal interpretation of basic scriptures or tests and believe that the doctrines which emerge from such readings should be applied to all aspects of social, economic and political life.
  9. Religious fundamentalists believe that only new view – their own – of the world is possible and that this view is the correct one: there is no room for ambiguity or multiple interpretations. Within religious fundamentalist movements, access to the exact meanings of scriptures is restricted to a set of privileged ‘interpreters’ – such as priests, clergy or other religious leaders. This gives these leaders a great amount of authority – not only in religious matters, but in secular ones as well. Religious fundamentalists have become powerful political figures in opposition movements, within mainstream political parties (including in the United States) and as heads of state (for example in Iran).
  10. Religious fundamentalism is a relatively new phenomenon – it is only in the last two to three decades that term has entered common usage. It has arisen largely in response to globalization. As the forces of modernization progressively undermine traditional elements of the social world – such as the nuclear family and the domination of women by men fundamentalism has arisen in defence of tradition.

Aspects of fundamentalism:

  1. Fundamentalism as a concept was first used in 1910-1915 when anonymous authors published 12 volumes of literature called them ‘The Fundamentals’. In the early 20s the print media used this word with reference to conservative protestant group in North America. These groups were concerned about liberal interpretations of the Bible. Alarmed by liberal interpretations the conservative insisted on some “fundamentals” of faith. These included belief in the virgin birth divinity, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and the infallibility of the scripture. As mentioned, these and other fundamentals were published in 12 pamphlets called The Fundamentals between 1910-1915. Thus began the specialized usage of the concept of “fundamentalism”. Thus, a fundamental movement is one which takes infallibility of a scripture as a basic issue and as a guide to life. Some fundamentalists add that there is no need to even interpret the scripture as meaning in it is self-evident. This often amounts to intolerance of any form of disagreement or dissent. This there is an apprehension that fundamentalists are narrow, and bigoted.
  2. T.N. Madan (1993) has pointed out that the word fundamentalism has gained wide currency in the contemporary world. According to him it refers to a variety of norms, values attitudes which either judge the fundamentalist or condemn them outright. This word is sometimes erroneously used in place of communalism. In fact, the word fundamentalism has become a blanket term. That is to say that various fundamental movements across the world are actually not identical but differ in various ways. But they are linked by a ‘family’ resemblance.
  3. Fundamentalist movements are of a collective character. They are often led by charismatic leaders who are usually men. Thus the 1979 Iranian movement was led by ayatollah Khomeini, and the Sikh fundamentalist upsurge by Sant Bhinderanwale (Madan). Fundamentalist leaders need not be religious leaders. Thus, maulana Maududi, founder of the Jamati Islami in India was a journalist. K.B. Hedgewar, founder of the Rastriya Sewak Sangh was a physician.
  4. The fundamentalists are a practical people and try to purge the way of life all impurities (religiously speaking). They reject all corrupt lifestyles. An example of this is swami Dayanand’s critique of the traditional, superstition filled way of life. Thus Maududi criticised the present Muslim way of life as ‘ignorant’ and Bhindranwale talked of the ‘fallen’ Sikhs who shave off their beards, out their hair and do not observe the traditional Sikh way of life. Thus, fundamental movements are not only about religious and practices, but lifestyles generally.
  5. Thus, fundamentalist movements are reactive and response to what the person involved-the leaders and participants, consider a crisis. The crisis calls for urgent remedies. The basic programme is presented as a return to the original tradition. That is to say to the contemporarily redefined fundamentals. Which cover the present-day needs. This usually involves a selective retrieval of tradition. The case of Dayanand illustrates this very well. He tried to evolve a semitised Hinduism in response to the challenge for conversion by Christian missionaries. He claimed that the Vedas were the only true form of Hinduism and his call was back to the Vedas. In Iran Khomeini developed on Islamic state based on the guardianship of jurists. Again bhindranwale gave a selective emphasis to guru Gobind Singh’s teaching rather than those of his immediate successors. Assertion of spiritual authority and criticising the culture are two aspects of fundamentalism. A third crucial element is that of the pursuit of political power.
  6. The pursuit of political power is very important aspect of fundamentalism, for without it we would be presented with a case for revivalism. The Samajists were ardent nationalists in north India, and the movement had its political overtones. Again the RSS which has been described as cultural organisation has had close links with political parties and contemporarily with the Sangh Parivar. This covers both cultural and political aspects of Hindu nationalism. This explains why fundamentalist movements often turn violent, and the ideology of secularism is rejected. They are totalitarian and do not tolerate dissent. However, these movements also perform a particular role in modern society which cannot be ignored. Thus, an objective intellectual analysis should consider fundamentalism as a distinctive category. It is not theocracy or backward communalism.
  7. Politics, religion and education vs fundamentalism: the fundamentalist’s criticise the idea of separation of religion from politics and state. They say god is omnipotent and political rule comes under his domain, how can then the state be outside religious realm? They insist on religious control on education important in schools and colleges. The fundamentalists advocate boycott of modern state-run schools where teaching is not through traditional religious system. The Muslim fundamentalists demand that all laws must be desired from the Koran and the sunnah. They suggest harsh punishments like emulation of hands and feet, public flogging etc. For crime done. The American fundamentalists suggest death penalty for murder adultery sodomy, rape, homosexuality, kidnapping, etc. Fundamentalism is anti-science and denies the validity of human knowledge which is outside the religious realm.
  8. Equality of religions vs. Fundamentalism: the fundamentalists do not believe in the equality of all religions. They say how on false religions be treated as equal to the true religion. On the similar line, they oppose the concept of the unity of all religions. They are opposed to reason, rationalism, humanism and secularism. The fundamentalists are also opposed to the idea of sovereignty, democracy and constitutional government.

Fundamentalism in relation to communalism:

Communalism can best be described in the context of Indian scenario. Communalism developed in
India through three stages:

  1. First stage: It began during the last quarter of 19th century. It was put forward that followers of a religion not only have religion in common but also political, economic, social and cultural interests. It led to the notion that in India, Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians form district communities and hence Indian Nation is made up of these communities.
  2. Second stage: It began during the start of 20th century. The communists argued that followers of a religion have different economic and political interests to these of other religions. At the same time some liberal communalists argued that different religious people also have some common economic and political interests.
  3. Third stage : In this stage, the notion which permeated was that Hindu and Muslim could never live together. They can never form one nation. Actually, what was good for Hindus was bad for Muslims, what was good for Muslims was bad for Hindus and so on.
Similarities between fundamentalism and Communalism:
  1. Both attack the concept of separation of religion from politics and the state.
  2. Both oppose unity of all religions.
  3. Both advocate control over education.
  4. Both believe in restoration of the past values and greatness.
  5. Both share the notion that founding of religion led to the achievement of near-human perfection.
  6. Both oppose secularism:
Differences of perception:

In a multi-religious society, a fundamentalist tends to be communal while communalist are not fundamentalists. As, in India, the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS, the BJP, the Akali Dal, etc. are communal parties but are not fundamentalists.

  1. Fundamentalists seriously urge for the actual revival of the pristine past whereas communalists though appeal, they are more focused on modern world.
  2. Fundamentalists are deeply religious and put their entire ideology on religion whereas communalists use religion just to give political power.
  3. Fundamentalists want to Christianize or Islamize or Hinduige the whole world. Communalists just want to communalize their own society.

Fdamentalism in the global context:

  1. Fundamentalism in Iran :
    • In the 19th century in Iran, Pahalvi dynasty was founded and with the help of Britishers, colonel Rajja Khan was made the king. Iran being on oil rich country attracted Britishers as they needed oil. For the purpose of exploitation of this resource, they employed their own men which erected dissatisfaction among Iranian masses. Meanwhile, America also joined and triangular co-operation developed with the support of British and America, king KHAN, started modernizing the state in which Madrassa’s and Maqatab were put under the control of Central administration.
    • All such actions caused great disenchantment among many Iranian. To protect their interest they took shelter in the religious places. Under the guidance of Ayyatullah Khomeini, their collective Action dethroned king Khan and a new set up was created in which religion got a special place marking the beginning of fundamentalism.
  2. In America :
    • Non-Religious Right Movement in America: Protestant Fundamentalism: the motto of this movement was to spread the importance of protestant religion and to stop modern practices as they were highly vulgar. They were causing harm to national values and mobility. Their slogan was “Bring Back America Again”. This shows American fundamentalism.
  3. Taliban regime:
    • Afghanistan could be cited as the most recent example of fundamentalism. A lot of hardships were inflicted upon women. Entire regime was politically, economically and socially crippled only Religion existed.
  4. Pakistan:
    • Fundamentalism kept on surfacing time to time in Pakistan but the some was to a large extent counterpoised by democratic government.


The phenomenon of fundamentalism is not confined to one religion but is freely and widely found among Christians, Muslims, Jains, Hindu and Sikhs. Fundamentalists asks for return to the fundamental tenets of a religion, to its original formulations and meanings that were given to the religion in its first text. No interpretation is allowed. Any interpretation made should be wiped out. These texts are God’s own words. Therefore, they are circular, unambiguous and changeless. For example, for Christian fundamentalists old and new testaments are God’s own words, for Muslim fundamentalist Karan and Sunnah, for Hindus the Vedas, for Sikh the Gurbabni. Infact, the fundamentalists regard any interpretation of such text as blasphemous act. Fundamentalists considers that the life should be governed by the religion as written in the tests. Gary North, one of the American fundamentalist said that Bible contains solutions to all problems a person faces today in his/her daily. According to Abdul-Jawed Yasin, religion is the divine way drawn by God for man to solve his economic affairs, social affairs, political affairs, legislative affairs, psychological affairs, internal affairs, external affairs and any other affair that it may have. A muslim fundamentalist say “God’s final religion contains all the legislation required”.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Thanks sir ,very helpful