Life as an Extreme Sport

If Postmodernists Are Reacting Against Modernity, Are Fundamentalists Postmodern?

No one exactly agrees as to what is meant by the term, except, perhaps, that ‘postmodernism’ represents some kind of reaction to, or departure from, ‘modernism’.
– David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity

If modernity/modernism can be defined as a result of the Enlightenment and characterized by a seriousness of scientificism and rationality (empiricism), then literary critic Terry Eagleton’s definition of a playful and self-ironizing postmodernsim would play very nicely into the idea of postmodernism as a secular reaction to modernity, the flip side to the 1910s-1920s development of fundamentalism as the religious response to modernization. The editors of the PRECIS 6 architectural journal certainly plays into this idea of postmodernism “as a legitimate reaction to the ‘monotony’ of universal modernism’s vision of the world’ (Harvey 9). If modernism is an embodiment of the scientific revolution, “with the belief in linear progress, absolute truths, the rational planning of ideal social orders, and the standardization of knowledge and production” and postmodernism rejects this meta-narrative, could we place the fundamentalism movement (restricted primarily to Christianity for this thought-process, as it’s the one that primarily developed within the sphere of modernity) as a sister-movement to postmodernism? This “neither likes modernity” is also seen in the significant mistrust both ways of thinking have for scientific rationalism. (One actually has to wonder if the rise in postmodern thought in the 1970s and 1980s, combined with a huge upswing in fundamental Christianity is what has caused the growing lack of faith in our society, and the concurrent rise in strong belief in the Weekly World News and other such tabloid fair and bad science.)

Modernity seems to have done away with any real conception of religion/spirituality; Harvey notes on page 34 that during “the inter-war years there was something desperate about the search for a mythology that could somehow straighten society out in such troubled times.” Harvey goes on to talk about Sorel’s conception of inventing myth (first pointed out in 1908, which is interesting, as 1912ish is when you first hear about the ‘return to fundamentals’ movement); this also seems to be a corollary to what the fundamentalists did. They were searching for and inventing myths out of their literal reading of mythos; Karen Armstrong goes into beautiful detail of the concept of mythos and logos and the fracturing of the two that modernity caused in her book The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism.

I’m really interested in this idea of postmodernity being the secular sister of fundamentalism; it would have interesting implications, at least academically if not socially. It would also almost remove postmodernity from being postmodernity (or modernity from itself); while you can argue that Fundamentalism with a capital “F” originated at the turn of the 20th century as a reaction to modernity, there are older fundamentalist movements that are also reactionary movements that arise out of some need to protest, separate, or distinguish from the dominant culture of the day. If we can link fundamentalism and postmodernity together, could we go back to earlier eras of noted fundamentalism and find corresponding secular reactionary movements against the dominant paradigm? And if we can do that, does it play into Latour’s assertion that we have never been modern?

This is all very interesting, and bears further musings while I read the remainder of Harvey.