Review: Authoritarian or Authority-Minded

August 29, 2006 at 2:40 am Leave a comment

Owen, Dennis; Wald, Kenneth; Hill, Samuel. 1991. “Authoritarian or Authority-Minded? The Cognitive Commitments of Fundamentalists and the Christian Right” Religion and American Culture. vol. 1 no. 1. pp. 73-100

Dennis Own, Kenneth Wald and Samuel Hill are, in this article, addressing the issue of authority in fundamentalists and the Christian right, in the United States of America. The authors posit that the term, “authority-mindedness” should be used in place of “authoritarianism”. This is because, they state, the term “authority-mindedness” provides a distinction between an ideological commitment and a personality trait; of which the term is often used to describe fundamentalists and holds a rather degenerative position. (1) This places the authors of this article in context with the recent trend of re-evaluating fundamentalisms, especially at the psychological level.(2) “Authority-minded” represents a world view that, “self consciously values authority.”(3) The authors maintain that the Christian fundamentalists under their study are concerned with the maintenance of a reliable order, rather than the domination of others.

That, “authority-mindedness” is a more appropriate term is defended by the authors by the results of a quantitative survey of Christian Fundamentalists in which the participants tested low on “authoritarianism.” However, this is not convincing: the use of a quantitative survey can often produce leading results and furthermore, the authors have failed to demonstrate their findings in relation to other research on authoritarianism in the field.(4) Indeed, it could be said that the above authors are steeped in apologetics. For example the following statement is deeply apologetic:

Fundamentalists are defending God’s way, not their own. The dogmatisism, rigidity, and authority-mindedness displayed are not of their own making and therefore not a wilful self-assertion.(5)

While the authors may in some sense be congratulated for their sympathetic approach, the above statement removes any sense of responsibility. Indeed, this removes the recognition that the individual herself must accept a given interpretation, and accept to become the vassal of the authority maker. When the fundamentalist’s states that it is, “God’s way or the highway,” they are in fact stating, “it is my interpretation of God’s way or the highway.” This lack of critical awareness is inherent in this article. For another example, while the authors admit that the family and household are part of the, “reliable order,” of the fundamentalist, and that this order is often patriarchal, they still maintain that fundamentalists are not interested in dominating others. Here, the authors fail to question whether or not the “reliable order” does in fact involve the domination of others; which a patriarchal system inevitably does. In conclusion, the authors of this article have attempted a sympathetic departure from previous research into fundamentalism which defined it degenerately. However, it is clear that apologetics have deeply marred their approach, which lacks in critical application.

1. Owen, D; Wald, K; Hill, S. 1991. “Authoritarian or Authority-Mindedness? The Cognitive of Fundamentalists and The Christian Right” Religion and American Culture. vol. 1 no. 1. pp. 73-100. pp. 75-76

2. For other articles that are also attempting such a re-evaluation see Savage, S. 2002. “A Psychology of Fundamentalism: The Search for Inner Failings” in ed. Martyn Percy and Ian Jones. Fundamentalism: Church and Society. p. 25. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,
London; Strozier, Charles. 1994. “Introduction” in Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America. pp. 1-24. Beacon Press,

3. Owen. “Authoritarian” p. 76

4. See: Laythe, B; Finkel, D; Bringle, R; Kirkpatrick, L. 2002. “Religious Fundamentalism as a Predictor of Prejudice” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. vol. 41 no. 4. pp. 623-635. Although this was obviously written long after the article in question above, it provides a detailed bibliography of research on authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism that is contemporaneous with said article.

5. Owen. “Authoritarian” p. 86


Entry filed under: Authoritarianism, Authority-minded, Fundamentalism, Psychology, Uncategorized.

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