Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fundamentalisms Narrated: Muhammadiyah, Sumarah, Primitive Baptist, and Pentecostal

Fundamentalisms Narrated: Muslim, Christian, and Mystical

James L. Peacock and Tim Pettyjohn

In: 1995. Fundamentalism comprehended. Ed. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby. (The Fundamentalism project; v. 5). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Pp. 115-134.

As academics attempting to describe fundamentalists, we might well ask how fundamentalists describe themselves. Perhaps the central problem of defining fundamentalism lies in bridging the inevitable gap between an abstract set of criteria and a varied empirical phenomenon; “fundamentalism” is never quite able to encompass all the “fundamentalisms” (p. 115).

In our interrogation of the diverse narratives that follow, the basic questions that we are asked to address in this volume will guide our inquiry. These questions roughly divide into negative and positive characterizations of the identity of the movement in question. We ask either what the movement is for or what it is against. Is it reactive or oppositional, and if so, against what? Is it against modernity, for example, seeking to restore an old order; is it counterhegemonic, seeking to win or reclaim power in some domain that has been lost to the secular? On the positive side, is its identity totalistic, that is, creating a “total way of life?” In doing so, does it appeal to charismatic and authoritarian (especially male) leaders, or to sacred sources of authority characterized as infallible in contrast to the foibles of human rationality? Doing this, must it seek converts, must it be militant, or does it find other ways of relating to outsiders? And do these relations with outsiders render the movement exclusivist, concerned with its own internal purity? (pp. 116-7)

The narratives we examine are life stories of four leaders of religious movements among which the senior author has done participant observation. The four can be divided into pairs, each pair representing a polarity within its particular geographic and cultural area. One pair is located in central Java, the Surakarta/Jogjakarta area where a sultanate remains alive… Within this area, as scholars have observed, there is a dominant polarity between a purist Islam and a syncretic… The syncretic/mystical pole is represented here by Sumarah, the purist Islamic pole by Muhammadijah… Muhammadijah, founded in Java but with branches throughout Indonesia, is a large, well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement that seeks a return to the uncorrupted text of the Qur’an, the word of Allah, and to the pure religion of Muhammad. However, unlike many Islamic fundamentalist groups in the Middle East, Muhammadijah is not a political party, nor is it directly allied to one; this has enabled the organization to survive changes in Indonesia’s political climate and grow into the most prominent movement of its type in Southeast Asia… (p. 116)

The second pair… represent a pervasive polarity within Protestant Christianity; the polarity between the Calvinist and the Arminian (or Wesleyan) soteriologies. The Calvinist professes that God decided before the foundation of the earth who would be saved and who damned, hence one’s fate in the next life is predestined. The Arminian holds that the individual has free will to choose whether or not to be saved. Here the Calvinists are represented by Primitive Baptists… while the Arminian/Wesleyans are represented by Pentecostals… (p. 116)

While one would not wish to press these parallels too far, one could see a certain homology between the Primitive Baptists and the Muhammadijans on the one hand, Sumarah members and the Pentecostals on the other. Primitive Baptists and Muhammadijans both seek to return to a scriptural and original faith; in this sense, they conform to the popular conception of “fundamentalist” religion. Equally, both groups hold doctrine to be eternal, an objective verity resting beyond the individual’s flawed ability to comprehend it. In contrast, the Sumarah and Pentecostals are more subjectively oriented, even mystical, because their main concern is with spiritual experience, as opposed to the heavily doctrinal focus of Muhammadijans and Primitive Baptists. To the member of the Sumarah meditation group or Pentecostal congregation, experience apprehends what scripture cannot convey, and the ephemeral signals the eternal. Despite the geographical differences, then, certain similarities of logic and patterning justify the choice of these cases for comparison. In any event, there is advantage in that the senior author has enjoyed direct involvement in all (p. 117).

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