Over the last fiteen years I've slowly been reading vol 1 of the now 6 volumes of The Fundamentalism fundyProject. While academics take the most joy in reading ponderous volumes with extensive bibliographies, esteemed historian Martin Marty's essay at the back is the one every organizational leader should read--especially those who head global enterprise.

His essay distills what scholars observe about fundamentalism across the globe--from state religion in Japan, to the American Fundamentalist movement, to the Tamil Tigers.

In essence:

  1. Community and personal identity is based in religious affiliation.
  2. The truth of their scripture speaks to everything in a unified way.
  3. They welcome the fact that their beliefs are scandalous to others.
  4. Their extremism helps them identify who are insiders and who are outsiders.
  5. They hold to a dramatic eschatology (the end of the world where either all is destroyed, all is made right, usually both).
  6. They make something out of moments in history, tying them to their texts and traditions as a fervent motive for action.
  7. Fundamentalists name and demonize their enemies.
  8. They believe they cannot co-exist with their enemy.
  9. They set boundaries and work to keep their movement pure.
  10. They have "a missionary zeal" (p.822)
  11. They tend to be birthed during times of crises, whether real or contrived. Often this is tied to a crisis of personal or peoplehood identity.
  12. Their beliefs are made to be a comprehensive system for all aspects of life and society.
  13. They mix both tradition and modernity, using modern tools to enforce their commitment to tradition.
  14. They convert their traditions into idealogical weapons against the world they consider hostile to them.
  15. They have charismatic and authoritarian (usually male) leaders.

While Fundamentalist movements are often religious, often traditionalist, and sometimes spawn terrorist movements, they should not be equated with terrorist organizations, political conservatism, or the uneducated/unwashed masses. A number of secular, left-wing and highly educated/monied movements are shown as Fundamentalist by this definition. The capacity to name your enemy, demonize them and commit oneself to their harm grows out of fanatical ideology left, center and right.

Oragnizational leaders with a global reach can learn about the political/religious/societal dynamics that affect their enterprise by spending a little time with Marty's essay. Even more, they can learn to recognize the signs that give rise to what may well come next. Leaders who care about foresight, not just analysis, do well to read and then reflect on this essay.

-mark l vincent


Mark L. Vincent
Post by Mark L. Vincent
September 3, 2014
I walk alongside leaders, listening to understand their challenges, and helping them lead healthy organizations that flourish.