Religious fanaticism is a pejorative designation used to indicate uncritical zeal or obsessive enthusiasm which is related to one's own, or one's group's, devotion to a
religion Religion is a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. This interaction is considered social whether they are aware of it or not, and whether the exchange is voluntary/involuntary. Etymology ...

 – a form of human
fanaticism Fanaticism (from the Latin adverb ''fānāticē'' ren-''fānāticus''; enthusiastic, ecstatic; raging, fanatical, furious is a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal (disambiguation), zeal or an obsessive enthusiasm. Philosopher George ...
which could otherwise be expressed in one's other involvements and participation, including employment, role, and partisan affinities. Historically, the term was applied in Christian antiquity to denigrate non-Christian religions, and subsequently acquired its current usage with the
Age of Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment); ger, Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; it, L'Illuminismo, "Enlightenment"; pl, Oświecenie , "Enlightenment"; pt, Iluminismo, "Enlightenment"; es, link= ...


Steffen gives several features which are associated with religious fanaticism or extremism: * Spiritual needs: Human beings have a spiritual longing for understanding and meaning, and given the mystery of
existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within a system, as opposed to that which is only imaginary Imaginary may refer to: * Imaginary (sociolog ...

, that spiritual quest can only be fulfilled through some kind of relationship with ultimacy, whether or not that takes the form as a "transcendent other." Religion has power to meet this need for meaning and transcendent relationship. * Attractiveness: It presents itself in such a way that those who find their way into it come to express themselves in ways consistent with the particular vision of ultimacy at the heart of this religious form. * A 'live' option: It is present to the moral consciousness as a live option that addresses spiritual need and satisfies human longing for meaning, power, and belonging.

Examples of religious fanaticism


Ever since Christianity was established, some of those in authority have sought to expand and control the church, often through the fanatical use of force. Grant Shafer says, "Jesus of Nazareth is best known as a preacher of nonviolence". The start of Christian fanatic rule came with the Roman Emperor
Constantine I Constantine I ( la, Flavius Valerius Constantinus; ; 27 February 22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). Th ...

Constantine I
. Ellens says, "When Christianity came to power in the empire of Constantine, it proceeded to almost viciously repress all non-Christians and all Christians who did not line up with official Orthodox ideology, policy, and practice". An example of Christians who didn't line up with Orthodox ideology is the
Donatists Donatism was a Christian sect A sect is a subgroup of a religious Religion is a - of designated and practices, , s, s, , , , , or , that relates humanity to , , and elements; however, there is no scholarly consensus over what precis ...
, who "refused to accept repentant clergy who had formerly given way to apostasy when persecuted". Fanatical Christian activity continued into the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
with the
Crusades The Crusades were a series of religious wars initiated, supported, and sometimes directed by the Latin Church in the medieval period. The term refers especially to the Eastern Mediterranean campaigns in the period between 1095 and 1271 that h ...

. These
religious war A religious war or holy war ( la, bellum sacrum) is a war War is an intense armed conflict between states, government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (poli ...
s were attempts by the Catholics, sanctioned by the
Pope The pope ( la, papa, from el, πάππας, translit=pappas, "father"), also known as the supreme pontiff () or the Roman pontiff (), is the bishop of Diocese of Rome, Rome, chief pastor of the worldwide Catholic Church, and head of state o ...

, to reclaim the
Holy Land The Holy Land (: , la, Terra Sancta; : or ) is an area roughly located between the and the Eastern Bank of the . Traditionally, it is synonymous both with the biblical and with the . The term "Holy Land" usually refers to a territory ro ...

Holy Land
from the
Muslims Muslims () are people who follow or practice Islam Islam (; ar, اَلْإِسْلَامُ, al-’Islām, "submission o God Oh God may refer to: * An exclamation; similar to "oh no", "oh yes", "oh my", "aw goodness", "ah gosh", ...
. However many Catholics see the crusades as a
just war The just war theory (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of ...
in self-defense, since the Seljuk Turkish Muslims were the original aggressors who had attacked Christian lands. Charles Selengut, in his book ''Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence'', said:
The Crusades were very much holy wars waged to maintain Christianity's theological and social control. On their way to conquering the Holy Land from the Muslims by force of arms, the crusaders destroyed dozens of Jewish communities and killed thousands because the Jews would not accept the Christian faith. Jews had to be killed in the religious campaign because their very existence challenged the sole truth espoused by the Christian Church.
Shafer adds that, "When the crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they killed Muslims, Jews, and native Christians indiscriminately". Contrary to what Shafer alleges, however, no eyewitness source refers to Crusaders killing native Christians in Jerusalem, and early Eastern Christian sources (Matthew of Edessa, Anna Comnena, Michael the Syrian, etc.) make no such allegation about the Crusaders in Jerusalem. According to the Syriac Chronicle, all the Christians had already been expelled from Jerusalem before the Crusaders arrived. Presumably this would have been done by the Fatimid governor to prevent their possible collusion with the Crusaders. Another prominent form of fanaticism according to some came a few centuries later with the
Spanish Inquisition The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition ( es, Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición), commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition ( es, Inquisición española), was established in 1478 by the Catholic Monarchs The term Catho ...
. The Inquisition was the monarchy's way of making sure their people stayed within Catholic Christianity. Selengut said, "The inquisitions were attempts at self-protection and targeted primarily "internal enemies" of the church". Selengut, Charles. p. 70. The driving force of the Inquisition was the Inquisitors, who were responsible for spreading the truth of Christianity. Selengut continues, saying:
The inquisitors generally saw themselves as educators helping people maintain correct beliefs by pointing out errors in knowledge and judgment... Punishment and death came only to those who refused to admit their errors ... during the Spanish Inquisitions of the fifteenth century, the clear distinction between confession and innocence and remaining in error became muddled.... The investigators had to invent all sorts of techniques, including
torture Torture is the deliberate infliction of severe pain or suffering Suffering, or pain in a broad sense, may be an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm in an individual. Suffering i ...

, to ascertain whether ... new converts' beliefs were genuine.
During the
Reformation The Reformation (alternatively named the Protestant Reformation or the European Reformation) was a major movement within Western Christianity in Vatican City Vatican City (), officially the Vatican City State ( it, Stato della Cit ...

Christian fanaticism increased between
Catholics The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian ...
and the recently formed Protestants. Many Christians were killed for having rival viewpoints. The Reformation set off a chain of sectarian wars between the Catholics and the sectarian Protestants, culminating in the wars of religion.


Islamic extremism dates back to the early history of Islam with the emergence of the Kharijites in the 7th century CE. The original schism between Kharijites, Sunni Islam, Sunnis, and Shia Islam, Shiʿas among
Muslims Muslims () are people who follow or practice Islam Islam (; ar, اَلْإِسْلَامُ, al-’Islām, "submission o God Oh God may refer to: * An exclamation; similar to "oh no", "oh yes", "oh my", "aw goodness", "ah gosh", ...
was disputed over the Succession to Muhammad, political and religious succession to the guidance of the Ummah, Muslim community (''Ummah'') after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. From their essentially political position, the Kharijites developed extreme doctrines that set them apart from both mainstream Sunni and Shiʿa Muslims. Shiʿas believe Ali ibn Abi Talib is the true successor to Muhammad, while Sunnis consider Abu Bakr to hold that position. The Kharijites broke away from both the Shiʿas and the Sunnis during the First Fitna (the first Islamic Civil War); they were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to ''Takfir, takfīr'' (excommunication), whereby they declared both Sunni and Shiʿa Muslims to be either Kafir, infidels (''kuffār'') or Munafiq, false Muslims (''munāfiḳūn''), and therefore deemed them Capital punishment in Islam, worthy of death for their perceived Apostasy in Islam, apostasy (''ridda''). Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Islamist ideologue and prominent figurehead of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, was influential in promoting the Pan-Islamism, Pan-Islamist ideology in the 1960s. When he was executed by the Egyptian government under the History of Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser, regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ayman al-Zawahiri formed the organization Egyptian Islamic Jihad to replace the government with an Islamic state that would reflect Qutb's ideas for the Islamic revival that he yearned for. The Qutbism, Qutbist ideology has been influential on Jihadism, jihadist movements and Islamic terrorism, Islamic terrorists that seek to overthrow secular governments, most notably Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri of al-Qaeda, as well as the Salafi jihadism, Salafi-jihadi terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL/ISIS/IS/Daesh. Moreover, Qutb's books have been frequently been cited by Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.Robert Irwin, "Is this the man who inspired Bin Laden?"
''The Guardian'' (1 November 2001).
Since Osama bin Laden's ''fatwa'' in 1998, ''jihad'' has increasingly become an internationally recognized term. Bin Laden's concept, though, is very different from the actual meaning of the term. In the religious context, ''jihad'' most nearly means "working urgently for a certain godly objective, generally an imperialist one". The word ''jihad'' in Arabic means 'struggle'. The struggle can be a struggle of implementing the Islamic values in daily activities, a struggle with others to counter arguments against Islam, or self-defense when physically attacked because of belief in Islam. According to Steffen, there are portions of the Quran where military ''jihad'' is used. As Steffen says, though, "Jihad in these uses is always defensive. Not only does ‘jihad' not endorse acts of military aggression, but ‘jihad' is invoked in Qur'anic passages to indicate how uses of force are always subject to restraint and qualification". This kind of jihad differs greatly from the kind most commonly discussed today. Thomas Farr, in an essay titled ''Islam's Way to Freedom'', states that "Even though most Muslims reject violence, the extremists' use of sacred texts lends their actions authenticity and recruiting power". (Freedom 24) He goes on to say, "The radicals insist that their central claim – God's desire for Islam's triumph – requires no interpretation. According to them, true Muslims will pursue it by any means necessary, including dissimulation, civil coercion, and the killing of innocents". (Freedom 24) According to certain observers this disregard for others and rampant use of violence is markedly different from the peaceful message that ''jihad'' is meant to employ. Although fanatic jihadists have committed many terroristic acts throughout the world, perhaps the best known is the September 11 attacks. According to Ellens, the al-Qaeda members who took part in the terrorist attacks did so out of their belief that, by doing it, they would "enact a devastating blow against the evil of secularized and non-Muslim America. They were cleansing this world, God's temple".#Reference-idEllens2004, Ellens, J. Harold. p. 35.


* Teaching in a World of Violent Extremism. N.p., Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2021.

See also

Crusades The Crusades were a series of religious wars initiated, supported, and sometimes directed by the Latin Church in the medieval period. The term refers especially to the Eastern Mediterranean campaigns in the period between 1095 and 1271 that h ...

* Cult suicide * Religious ecstasy * Donatism * Jihad * Just war theory * Khawarij * Mass suicide * Religious terrorism * Religious violence * Religious war * Violent extremism


Further reading

* * * * * * * Moran, Seán Farrell, "Patrick Pearse and Patriotic Soteriology," in Yonah Alexander and Alan O'Day, ''The Irish Terrorism Experience'', Aldershot: Dartmouth, 17-30. * * * * Беляев, И.А
Религиозный фанатизм как иллюзорная компенсация недостаточности духовно-душевных составляющих целостного мироотношения
/ И.А. Беляев // Вестник Челябинской государственной академии культуры и искусств. — 2011. — № 4 (28). — С. 68-71. {{DEFAULTSORT:Religious Fanaticism Religious extremism Religious practices