David Chidester


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.

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ISSN 2305-445X (online); ISSN 0254-1807 (print)

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