defining fundamentalism

Daniel Larison has given us a characteristically smart post on the difference between religious conservatives and fundamentalists. I commend it to you. “Fundamentalist” is one of those words, like “literalism,” that has been abused beyond any reasonable chance of recovery. (If you read that post you'll see why I think that Larison is wrong on one point, the identification of fundamentalism with literalism.) But if you’re determined to use it, you should first read the parsing of it by the eminent philosopher Alvin Plantinga, in his book Warranted Christian Belief:

We must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch.’ When the term is used in this way, no definition, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you fell obligated first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use); it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine.’