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Intercultural
Lexicon

The Kurds

An ethnic and linguistic minority in the Near East, the Kurds now live divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, in a region unofficially known as Kurdistan, where they have always been the object of persecution and oppression.

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Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism means the literal and dogmatic interpretation of holy texts (but these may also be secular texts), the prescriptive indications of which are considered the foundations of all action.

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Ethnic Violence

Many of the conflicts or mass violence of recent decades have been characterised by the adjective “ethnic”. This means that the leading players were groups opposing one another on the basis of identitarian, religious, linguistic or more generally cultural assertions..

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Relativism

Few concepts are both so controversial and recurrent within the philosophical and cultural debate as the concept of relativism.

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Islamism

Islamism is a highly militant mobilizing ideology selectively developed out of Islam’s scriptures, texts, legends, historical precedents, organizational experiences and present-day grievances, all as a defensive reaction against the long-term erosion of Islam’s primacy over the public...

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Reset
A month of ideas.
Giancarlo Bosetti Editor-in-chief
Association for dialogue and intercultural understanding
Intercultural Lexicon
IT Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism means the literal and dogmatic interpretation of holy texts (but these may also be secular texts), the prescriptive indications of which are considered the foundations of all action. Fundamentalism rejects all systems of beliefs that oppose such foundations and considers its own religious texts as infallible and above all as having a historical basis, in spite of possible contradictions identified by modern theories and science.


In particular, fundamentalism is specifically based on four factors:
a) the principle of inherence, concerning the contents of the Holy Book, assumed in its entirety, as a totality of sense and meanings that cannot be divided;
b) the principle of the a-historicalness of the truth and the Book that preserves it;
c) the principle of the superiority of Divine Law over that of humankind, according to which the words written in the Holy Book provide an integral model for a perfect society.
d) The primacy of the myth of the foundation: a real and proper myth of the origins the function of which is to emphasise the absoluteness of the belief system every believer is called upon to adhere to and the profound sense of cohesion that united all those who are part of it.

The word fundamentalism appeared at the beginning of the 20th Century in the Protestant world, mainly American, as a reaction to criticism of the Bible and to exegesis, but can also be linked to the anti-modernist Catholic reaction, that did however refer more to the Magisterium and to tradition than to the integrity of the biblical texts. Nowadays fundamentalism is used above all to refer to the emerging trends in the monotheistic religions, characterised above all by a critical reaction to modernity, to the secularisation processes and the attempts to provide new answers for the modern world. Hence one speaks of “Jewish fundamentalism”, “Catholic fundamentalism”, “Islamic fundamentalism” etc.

By extension, “fundamentalism” is used to indicate an a-critical and dogmatic attitude with regards to texts or theories that are also secular, in the sense that the word fundamentalism can become a synonym for fanaticism or extremism (some for example use the expression “secular extremism”). More specifically, the main factor characterising the various kinds of fundamentalism is the importance of the subject of politics, in the sense that it affects the ethical bond uniting those who live within the same society and radically poses the problem of the polis’ ultimate ethical-religious foundations, which must be based upon a religious pact and hence on a series of values considered inalienable and for which it is worth fighting. The objective is that of a religious re-founding of modern societies.

Two elements arise from this principle: the importance of forms of mobilisation of militants (since those convinced that there is an absolute truth will make an effort to invent protests and forms of political action of highly symbolic value and often violent) and “the Enemy Syndrome”. Increasingly widespread individualism and moral permissiveness are blamed on a series of causes, identified in changing subjects according to the occasion, such as democratic pluralism, secularism, communism, the capitalist West, the modern State and so on. All theses aspects of the Enemy are used to emphasise within the collective imagination of militant fundamentalists the idea that someone is working to undermine the roots of the identity of a group or a whole people, trying to destroy the memories that link human groups and populations to an ancient and superior origin: the particular pact of alliance with a revealed divine word or a holy law.

From Enzo Pace, Renzo Guolo, Fundamentalisms, Laterza, Rome Bari 1998.

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