Finishing its work in five volumes rather than the projected six, The Fundamentalism Project concludes with a monument of scholarship, a survey and interpretation likely to remain the fullest and deepest consideration of the fundamentalist phenomenon for decades to come. The volume's star-studded cast (including Gabriel Almond, Wayne C. Booth, Ernest Gellner, S. N. Eisenstadt, and Emmanuel Sivan) has been put to work at what it does best -- comparing and contrasting fundamentalism in the Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and South Asian religious traditions. Chapters break ground in dealing with such topics as humor in fundamentalist circles (more prevalent than one might think) and a literary analysis of stories about finding true faith. Throughout this volume, as the project as a whole, the assumption reigns that "fundamentalisms" are a similar phenomenon across religions.
Fundamentalisms Comprehended contains too many theories to convey here; suffice to note two, from the introductory and concluding chapters. In the first, Sivan argues that the key allure of fundamentalist movements lies in their "enclave" nature, their offer of group identity and taking part in a social network. Therefore, those most attracted to fundamentalism are neither the blatantly oppressed nor the poor but rather the subordinated and the alienated -- anyone from American suburbanite commuters stuck at midlevel in large corporations to dwellers of shantytowns in Tehran or Cairo. A trio of authors closes the study observing that fundamentalism has far better political prospects in authoritarian states than in democratic ones: if suppression by the former does not "root out these movements," the "temptations and challenges" of the latter force fundamentalists to huddle in their enclaves, where they pose little danger to the state.