The Fundamentalist Movement

Christian rally

It was in the years after World War I that the modern Fundamentalist movement drastically expanded. There were two main publications that spurred the onset of this immense movement:

The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth

The Scofield Reference Bible

Current Fundamentalists believe that everyone must choose to be either Fundamentalist or non-Fundamentalist. There is no in between. According to The Fundamentalist Project (see Further Reading) the major characteristics of Fundamentalists are:

  1. Their religion forms their identity, both personal and communal.
  2. There is one and only one truth, and it is theirs.
  3. They are purposefully shocking.
  4. They see themselves as part of a "cosmic struggle".
  5. They interpret historical events as part of their "cosmic struggle".
  6. They try to make any opposition to them look bad and immoral.
  7. They only emphasize some parts of their heritage (in other words, they ignore what it is convenient to ignore).
  8. Their leaders are typically male.
  9. They try to rebel against the current distribution of power.
According to Bruce Lawrence (see Further Reading) Fundamentalists tend to see themselves as a repressed minority, even when they may in fact be a majority (or, at least, a major minority). They make up their own technical vocabulary, and although there are many roots and antecedents to Fundamentalism, it is its own movement, and nothing before it resembles it in every particular.

Members of the Holiness Church, who believe that the Gospel of Mark instructs them to handle poisonous snakes.
Cultural Anthropology, Robbins


The spread of Fundamentalism in the 1920s began in rural areas, although it is certainly not limited to rural areas now. At the time, Fundamentalists were very skeptical and even afraid of scientific theories, such as evolution. They resented it that others didn't accept the inerrancy of the Bible as they did. The controversy in these rural (and mostly Southern) areas grew. When state laws began to forbid the teaching of evolution in public schools under the pressure of the Fundamentalists, others began to react. The Scopes Trial of 1925 is the most famous example of this. And although the Evolutionists lost the case, this trial marked the beginning of a loss of momentum for the Fundamentalists.

The 1930s was not a great decade for the Fundamentalists. Most people were beginning to accept the scientific theories above the Biblical ones promoted by Fundamentalism. Many other people accepted more liberal religious doctrines, rather than the strictly Scriptural Fundamentalist ones. There was also a great lack of leadership among the Fundamentalists themselves. There was no national organization to unite the Fundamentalists across the United States.


Jerry Falwell, TV Evangelist

In the 1940s and 1950s, however, the movement revived. (The main reason for this was the reaction against Modernism.) A lot of money has been spent on radio and television broadcasts (often known as TV Evangelists). The American Council of Christian Churches was established in 1941 - a conservative counterpart to the National Council of Churches. The International Council of Christian Churches was founded by Fundamentalists in 1948 and its center was placed in Amsterdam. Over 45 denominations in 18 countries are members of it.
Today, there are over 30 million Fundamentalists across the United States. The current population of the United States is about 281 million. That means that about 10.6% of our population are Fundamentalists.