• David Chidester Department of Religious Studies University of Cape Town


Against the background of defining, theorizing, humanizing, nationalizing, and globalizing religion in South Africa, this essay recalls the diverse ways in which religious fundamentalism has registered in South Africa as an ‘inauthentic’ claim on religious authenticity. Tracking academic and media attention to religious fundamentalism at ten-year intervals, we find Christian fundamentalism appearing during the 1970s as contrary to the apartheid state, during the 1980s as legitimating the apartheid state, and during the 1990s as resisting the new democratic dispensation. By the 1990s, however, attention to religious fundamentalism, locally and globally, shifted to focus on varieties of politicized Islam. As this brief historical review suggests, the term, ‘fundamentalism,’ whether applied to Jesus People in Johannesburg during the 1970s or People Against Gangsterism and Drugs during the 1990s, has been a recurring but shifting sign of a crisis of authenticity. In conclusion, South African perspectives on religion, the state, and authenticity can be drawn into analyzing the current crisis of fundamentalism in our rapidly globalizing and increasingly polarized world.
Defining Fundamentalism and Religious Conservatism in South Africa