Recently there was another religion-based debate on The Big Questions which discussed one question: whether fundamentalism undermines faith. The show itself was thoroughly interesting, as it often is, even if this episode was an exercise in how many mad people you can get into one room; it was more interesting to simply marvel at the ridiculousness of some of the arguments. However, throughout the entire show, it seemed very obvious that the word fundamentalism is problematic. It was not explicitly defined in the show, but the guests seemed to share a common understanding of what it was: fundamentalism was considered to be a combination of literalism (an excellent word which in this case meant taking statements from old religious texts as facts), a bias for the conservative, and oppressive conformism. Had this definition been stated, many of the arguments expressed may have fallen into place more easily. Whilst this seems like a good definition in one sense, in that we all understand which people this refers to, it doesn’t seem to belong to the word fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism, based entirely on the word alone, would perhaps be the viewpoint that fundamental ideas need to be deduced and that they are correct. This definition, whilst it could be used to incorporate the other, includes a different, vast collection of knowledge and thinking, which is science. Natural sciences look for trends in observations, which is essentially looking for the basics of how something words, or the fundamentals. Science could be described as a form of fundamentalism.
But it would seem ridiculous to collect together scientists and religious literalists under one word, since the two are overwhelmingly different in their thinking. So perhaps, instead of the word fundamentalism, despite its dramatic tone, we should use the word literalism.