Political Science IUB

4/20 "Major Trends in the History of Fanaticism"

Major Trends in the History of Fanaticism


Zachary Goldsmith


ABSTRACT: This paper seeks to explore the major contours of the evolution of the concept of “fanaticism.” Taking as its starting point the heuristic insights of Reinhart Koselleck’s method of “concept history,” this paper explores the ways in which the concept of fanaticism has been used and understood over time and identifies a major discontinuity in the semantic nature of the concept leading into the Modern period (c. late 18th to early 19th centuries), where the concept undergoes a broad re-conceptualization from a generally religious concept to a political one. This modality comprises the final of three historical moments in the history of the concept of fanaticism: the original understanding as a purely description, non-pejorative reference to aspects of Roman cultic practice, a religiously-, largely Christian-inspired and pejorative understanding as fanaticism as “other” religious praxis, and, finally, a modern understanding created during and after the events of the French Revolution of fanaticism as an excessive form of political praxis in opposition to competing categories like reason (for Immanuel Kant) and prudence (for Edmund Burke). Finally, this transformation in the modern era corresponds to further shifts within the concept, including the transformation of the idea of fanaticism denoting ontological possession, and its attendant violence and excesses, to an analogical form of possession, wherein the impetus for fanatical behavior is endogenous. A greater appreciation of the historical nature and development of this concept can help us to understood and respond to contemporary political activity that can be understood as fanatical.

Friday April 20, 2018 10:30 AM
Friday April 20, 2018 12:00 PM
Woodburn Hall 218
Zachary Goldsmith
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