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Christian Fundamentalism

Nonfundamentalists' fears about what some inordinately religious people might do has inspired a wide-ranging scrutiny of Christian fundamentalism- increasingly lumped together with the fervent religious movements of other world religions- and has generated a mini-industry of fundamentalism studies, ranging from the University of Chicago's multivolume Fundamentalisms Observed to public media coverage such as the 1996 television news special on the Promise Keepers men's movement. Recently, a critical breakthrough in this research has come from twentieth-century scholars who privilege gender as a category of analysis. These scholars argue that the way this modern religious movement typically has been studied and portrayed elides the primary meaning of gender within it. The inattendance to gender by religionists and by scholars of religion has made it possible for Christian fundamentalism to be defined by its adherents as a religious movement whose central concern is orthodoxy or "right belief" and by scholars as a social movement whose primary, impetus is resistance to modernity. Both definitions marginalize the curious parallel timing between the rise of Christian fundamentalism, with its gender-conservative ideology and practices, and the widespread cultural movement toward liberalization of gender patterns.

In a landmark work, "Ungodly Women: Gender and the First Wave of American Fundamentalism", Betty DeBerg presented the first extended criticism of the usual approaches to fundamentalism. DeBerg insisted that gender was not a minor issue of family norms for Christian fundamentalism but the cardinal factor that triggered the birth of the movement. Through a detailed reading of the sermons and writings of its first generation of male leaders, DeBerg disclosed how the prevailing rhetoric of fundamentalism's first wave was impelled by early twentieth-century antifeminist backlash against the expanding rights of women.

Pushing our understanding of gender issues in fundamentalism even further, Margaret Bendroth subsequently undertook an historical appraisal of the role of gender in fundamentalist parachurch organizations. The book she wrote out of that research, Fundamentalism and Gender, concisely traced how the gender ideologies of fundamentalist parachurch institutions became more restrictive toward women's leadership in response to cultural antifeminist sentiments.

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