Original Research

‘Fundamentalism’ and ‘fundamentalist’ semantically considered: Their lexical origins, early polysemy, and pejoration

Frederick Hale
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 47, No 1 | a672 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v47i1.672 | © 2013 Frederick Hale | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 October 2012 | Published: 25 November 2013

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Frederick Hale, School of Ecclesiastical Sciences, North-West University, South Africa


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Abstract

The words fundamentalist (as both a noun and an adjective) and fundamentalism were coined in 1920 within the Northern Baptist Convention when that and other American Protestant denominations were experiencing theological turmoil due to the advance of theological modernism. It is argued in the present article that both terms initially had positive meanings when used by defenders of orthodoxy. However, within weeks of their birth both were criticised by less conservative Christians. Like many other theological terms they underwent semantic change – in this case pejoration and lexical extension. Moreover, by 1923 ‘fundamentalist’ had been extended into political journalism to refer to strict adherents of one ideology or another. The greatest change, however, and one that fixed these neologisms in the public mind in both North America and the United Kingdom, came with the widely published ‘Scopes monkey trial’ of 1925, when the association of ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘fundamentalism’ with anti-intellectualism and obscurantism reached its apogee.

Die terme fundamentalis (as ’n selfstandige sowel as byvoeglike naamwoord) en fundamentalisme het binne die Noordelike Baptiste-tradisie ontstaan toe hulle en ander Amerikaanse Protestantse denominasies onrus op teologiese gebied beleef het as gevolg van die opkoms van teologiese modernisme. Die betoog in hierdie artikel is dat albei hierdie terme aanvanklik positiewe betekenis gehad het toe dit deur die beskermers van die ortodoksie gebruik is. Albei terme is egter binne weke na hulle ontstaan deur minder konserwatiewe Christene gekritiseer. Soos vele ander teologiese terme, het hierdie woorde ook semantiese veranderinge ondergaan, in hierdie geval met ongunstige betekenis en leksikale uitbreiding. Boonop is die term fundamentalis teen 1923 ook in die politieke joernalistiek gebruik om na die rigiede navolging van een of ander ideologie te verwys. Die grootste verandering, en een wat hierdie neologismes algemeen in Noord-Amerika sowel as in die Verenigde Koninkryk gevestig het, het egter gekom met die wyd gepubliseerde ‘Scopes monkey trial’ in 1925 toe die assosiasie van fundamentalis en fudamentalisme met anti-intellektualisme en verkramptheid ’n hoogtepunt bereik het.


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