Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Online learning: Religious fundamentalisms.

A few weeks ago I attended an e-learning session organised by the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), under the initiative Resisting and Challenging Religious Fundamentalisms (CF). Fascinating stuff -- technology-wise and knowledge-wise -- to listen to activists from Canada and chat with participants from all over the world (Malaysia, Ecuador, India, El Salvador just to name a few) 'live'.

The session started with a short lecture on the various and dynamic definitions of 'religious fundamentalisms'. Of course there are always ideas that we have when we hear that loaded and vague term 'religious fundamentalisms', and just like how a favourite professor of mine starts his class, we threw out related phrases and words.

It gets difficult when certain religious circles appropriate this term and use it in a positive way, but it has the unfortunate effect of total confusion. For example, they emphasise fundamentalism as a good thing, because it's about going back to the 'fundamentals' i.e. basics of the religion, which can't ever be a bad thing. The problem is when, one can't agree on what exactly the basics are.

Religious movements address the growing youth's need for identity and a sense of purpose in society. This is especially important in cases of marginalisation due to ethnicity or class (or both -- again, sounds familiar?). When the state does not provide for the basic needs of their citizens, and religious groups step in to provide health and education, for example, declaring your public belonging to these groups make total sense.

Especially if such aid is conditional -- you have to behave and dress in a certain way and believe (or profess to, at least) certain things.

But what about when there is decent provision of basic services to society? Why do young men (largely) still fall prey to groups like Jemaah Islamiyah? One writer suggests that their type of education -- mostly hard sciences, therefore no notion of nuances or grey areas -- is to blame. Another suggests their economic marginalisation in Singapore society.

Whatever it is, can we at least agree that religious fundamentalisms are not a positive force?

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