Book Review: Fundamentalism at Home and Abroad: Analysis and Pastoral Responses
To call someone a fundamentalist in contemporary western culture is a powerful indictment. Once this word might only have been used for those on the fringes of certain religious groups or conflicts in distant lands. Even a casual observer of current culture will have noticed the rise of fundamentalist impulses in places not observed previously. While the usage of the term has increased one would question if accuracy around a precise meaning has developed in the public sphere. The purpose of Fundamentalism at Home and Abroad is to not only help the reader build an accurate definition but to understand the drivers of fundamentalist impulses.
Arbuckle is a prolific writer on a range of subjects, including contemporary Catholicism, missions, Western culture, and various social issues. Arbuckle is a Catholic Priest with the Society of Mary. He is currently the co-director of Refounding and Pastoral Development, a research ministry in Sydney. This volume a sequel to Violence, Society, and the Church: A Cultural Approach (Liturgical Press, 2004) where the author touched on the topic of fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism at Home and Abroad has six chapters and an introduction. Each chapter concludes with summary points and questions for a small group to discuss. The Introduction section of the book is where Arbuckle initially defines fundamentalism and what causes it. Within this section Arbuckle informs the reader “this book looks at fundamentalism through the particular lens of cultural anthropology” (xvii). This approach invites the reader to examine the topic from a perspective that might be unknown to many readers. The use of this perspective aids the reader to understand the journey a person has made toward fundamentalism as opposed to simply constructing a grievance list, and then determine if the concern is valid.
In Chapters One and Two Arbuckle defines fundamentalism and explores the cultural conditions required that allow it to develop. The central contention of the work is that “[f]undamentalists achieve power in times of actual or perceived cultural trauma” (7). These two chapters investigate the factors that allow this perception to develop. The battleground that would enable this development to form are the very stories that shape and define a culture, religion, or community. “Fundamentalists create narratives that re-write the founding stories of their nation or the institution they belong to” (48).
Chapters Three, Four, and Five explore the relationship between religion and fundamentalism. Islam and Christianity are both studied in these chapters. Chapter four outlines the fundamentalist features of various Catholic groups that have formed in recent years. This chapter covers material that would be a surprise to many readers unless they are familiar with the inner features of Catholicism.
Chapter Six, “Fundamentalism: Pastoral Responses” (162), challenges the reader of the book with action. The author has taken seriously the second half of the title of the book: analysis, and pastoral responses. The actions suggested in this chapter are practical responses that people can take as they engage with fundamentalist thought. Some actions are simple, “Response 2: Have a sense of humor” (164); whereas others require study and careful reflection, “Response 11: Beware of moral panics fuelled by the media” (178).
At the end of each chapter, there are some summary points and a series of questions that could be used in a classroom or study setting that explores the topic further. Each chapter has some textboxes that offer examples of what the author is explaining. These examples are varied; Al-Qaeda, McCarthyism, Neocapitalism, Flag debate, Superman, etc.
The one critique of this work, ironically, concerns what Arbuckle has also done well. As one is reading the text, one senses that more could be said, or that the author has not revealed all that he knows on the topic. At the end of each chapter, one is left wanting more, knowing that the author has more to give. The footnotes help alleviate this desire somewhat. In fairness, this text is not meant to be the definitive work on fundamentalism and the author has done a good job keeping this short volume focused on the target audience.
This volume achieves its goal and provides a robust overarching theory on how fundamentalism develops. This definition is coupled with practical daily approaches that a person can take. The target audience of a small study group would be equipped to engage the multiple manifestations of fundamentalism that a community might encounter. The undergraduate class might find the text a useful resource that that allows for exploration of a sensitive topic, especially if discussing the fundamentalist tendencies of one's own community.
Leon O’Flynn is a lecturer in Biblical Studies, Australia College of Ministries.
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