CSUN panel discusses religious fundamentalism

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Religious fundamentalism is on the rise in religions, such as Christianity Jewish and Islam, according to a panel of experts at an event held Nov. 9 at the Aronstam Library in Manzanita Hall.

The panel included Jody Myers, coordinator of the Jewish Studies program, Patrick Nichelson, chair of the Religious Studies Department, and Women’s Studies professor Nayereh Tohidi. The event was sponsored by the Communication Studies Department, Women’s Resource and Research Center and Center for Human Relations.

Nichelson described religious fundamentalism as a phrase with several definitions with “principles forced against contest, against tradition, which is always changing.”

“They refuse to see religion as part of culture,” he said.

Audience members were given flyers that included additional information on the religious fundamentalism, such as current articles and various meanings attached to the phrase.

Nichelson provided the audience with a handout of an excerpt of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Bible regarding the issue of homosexuality in which he added fundamentalists are against homosexuality.

“They read only part of the story, but don’t go on to mention the rest,” Nichelson said.

He said the excerpt depicted that stories of the destruction of the cities Sodom and Gomorrah vary within the Bible, and that there are different explanations about the cities’ destruction other than homosexuality. Nichelson said religious fundamentalists say that homosexuality alone caused the destruction of the cities, and do not provide other explanations to the destruction.

Myers said different religions have distinct views on fundamentalism. She said religious people practice the “fundamentals” of a certain belief, and later encounter difficulty adapting to modern society.

According to Myers, religious fundamentalists often confuse their religious beliefs with nationalism. She said that when religious fundamentalists integrate religion and nationalism, nonviolent religious groups could become violent.

The fundamentalist movement is also creating separatism among the Jewish community, according to Myers.

Most Jewish fundamentalism occurs in Israel, Myers said. Division between Jews, who support the fundamentalist movement and those who oppose it, exists within the holy city, according to Myers.

“Fundamentalists want to get rid of religious freedom,” Myers said. “To them, you’re either a Jew or not a Jew.”

Despite religious separatism among the Jewish community, Islamic fundamentalism is a movement that has the most negative image, Tohidi said.

“Islam is usually equated with a militant, radical image,” she said.

Islamic fundamentalism is mostly a political movement, not a theological one, Tohidi said. Islamic fundamentalists use religion for political purposes and often resort to violence, Tohidi said. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism could be explained when looking back at history, Tohidi said.

“Muslims are lagging in the train of progress and modernization, which has brought some tension,” Tohidi said. “Muslims used to have such power with their empires and then were confronted with humiliation. They began to question themselves, (and say) ‘what went wrong?'”

The issue of the oppression of women in Islam was also discussed by Tohidi in which she said also has to do with the modernization of the religion. Tohidi said women are becoming more involved in activities and are knowledgeable of the Koran now.

Fundamentalists do not support the concept of a feminist movement in Islamic nations, she said.

“Traditionalists usually believe in covering women (and) keeping women to a domestic role,” Tohidi said. “Women (are) having more roles in society because Islam is more compatible in modern times.”

Oscar Areliz can be reached oscar.areliz@csun.edu.