Cultural Brief
Pierpaolo Grezzi

On October 2014, I was invited by the Department of Philosophy of University of Rome “La Sapienza” to give a series of lectures on “Theoretical Roots of Islamic Fundamentalism”, with the aim to give to students some interpretative instruments to decode the phenomenon.
I promptly understood the complexity of the task, first of all for the danger to approach this argument with an euro-centric perspective, on one hand, or with a too dispassionate interpretation, on other hand, with the result to reduce the importance of a serious reflection about this topic.
I try to bypass difficulties adopting two strategies: at first, I tried to stress the complexity of the phenomenon, inviting myself and students to never give up to the temptation of simplification. In fact, any cultural and religious occurrence has specific contexts – historical, social, theological, political, economical – from which it derives. Fundamentalists are usually inclined to simplify and to erase differences and contradictions. And I primarily wanted avoid a “fundamentalist” approach in description of fundamentalism. For this reason, my second strategy was the historical method: after a general introduction, I tried to follow the development of this phenomenon from his origin (in modernity) to most recent elaboration.
In this post and in the following ones (in this section Cultural Brief), I would like to share with Think-Med readers a part of this route and the considerations that came from it. I hope that this work will be useful to enlarge the debate on dialogue possibilities and Mediterranean mutual comprehension.


To avoid misunderstanding, I immediately clarify that fundamentalism is not synonymous of violence, or fanaticism, nor integralism. We define “Fundamentalism” a strict adherence to certain theological doctrines, based above all on the desire to return to previous ideals, from which it is believed that members have begun to stray. That ideals are called “fundamentals”.
A fundamentalist approach doesn’t belong only to religious field, but it is possible find fundamentalism also in politics, economics, philosophy, human science. What I try to examine here is modern religious fundamentalism. Naturally, this phenomenon has different features depending on the context in which arises: Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on. For this reason, many experts prefer to speak about “fundamentalisms”, in a plural form, exactly to indicate that there is not only a kind of fundamentalism, but it is a multiform concept.
However, I think that some general tendencies are common to any sorts of fundamentalist.
In particular, three structural dynamics are useful to frame fundamentalism:

In 1989 (just after Berlin Wall fall), the German political scientist Thomas Meyer summarized the most relevant aspects of phenomenon in the idea that fundamentalism is a movement based on a voluntary closing, in contrast with modern process of opening (in thinking, as well as in commerce and society organization). Fundamentalism designs a close society, in which no gap from dominant beliefs and behavior is admitted. This is because fundamentalism proposes a re-foundation ideal, that is an ambitious project aimed to bring back the truth at the first place, in a leading position in respect to mistake. “Bring back” implies the belief in a original situation of perfection, that now members of society distanced from. It is necessary come back to that model, and the first step is recognize yourself as member of an elected group, that is on the right way, distinguished by other groups, that are on the wrong way. The division line between different group is distinct and clear. Fundamentalist’s approach is a non-inclusive one.

In front of pluralism and fragmentation of attitudes and behaviors of modern societies, fundamentalism proposes an absolute unity of intents in the action of people, unity of certain beliefs and common spaces, able to overtake individual opinions and diversity of points of view. The way back to idealized past has the function of social integration: all fundamentalist movement attribute big importance to social and collective dimension, in fact the effort towards a collective transformation is central. This implies that society is perceived as a unique body, in which usually religious sphere is not separated from politics, economics, law, education, health system. Plurality is considered a deviation.

Present society is considered unfounded, lacking of pillars. This idea comes from insecurity of citizenship’s links in modern mass society, in which individuals tend to be anonymous and atomized. Life seems to be senseless, without an ultimate aim. Nothing seems to have absolute validity and everything belongs to uncertainty. From this perception of reality, fundamentalists take refuge in certainty and continuity of absolute fundamentals, opposed to relativism.
Continues in next post…

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