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This insightful and provocative new study explores the combination of social strains and religious ideas that have produced such fundamentalist movements as the Islamic revolution in Iran and the new Christian Right in the USA.
Social science has generally focused on the social circumstances that produce extremist movements and regarded their religious ideologies as window-dressing. This study takes the religious elements of fundamentalism seriously. It explains why some religions are more likely than others to produce fundamentalism and why those movements differ in their willingness to use violence to pursue their goals. Rejecting the idea that fundamentalists are suffering from some kind of abnormal psychology, Bruce claims that fundamentalism is a rational response of traditionally religious people to social, political and economic changes that downgrade the role of religion in public life. Despite its importance as a symptom of rapid social change, he concludes that fundamentalism does not pose a serious challenge or sustainable alternative to the secular and liberal democracy of most Western societies. Its force is weakened by its own internal contradictions and blunted by the power of the nation state.
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