I am looking for a generalized term for "the belief that there is a single or narrow range of correct interpretations of events or a circumscribed set of permitted actions in a particular situation as prescribed by an unquestionable authority."

Fundamentalism fits to some degree, but has a religious connotation whereas people can hold the above belief without also believing in a deity or god. Also, people who identify as fundamentalist have a much different usage for the word.

Any suggestions for a term that captures the belief without referring specificity to the religious?

ETA: Very good suggestions. To clarify a bit more, what I am looking for is a word or short phrase that emphasizes a reliance on an unquestionable authority. Many words that have that connotation also seem to to be used to mean a steadfast belief.


12 Answers 12


Those who want to return to the 'foundations' of their particular ideology or concept or system practice fundamentalism; those who return to the roots or radices (radix is Latin for 'root', cf. English radish, eradicate) practice radicalism. There often isn't much of a difference between the two.

As you say, fundamentalism is more often used to describe religious movements, but this is by no means exclusively so. Either word will do.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Oct 14, 2016 at 16:44

How about absolutism?

From Dictionary.com:

absolutism: any theory holding that values, principles, etc., are absolute and not relative, dependent, or changeable.

absolute: something that is not dependent upon external conditions for existence or for its specific nature, size, etc. (opposed to relative)

the absolute: something that is free from any restriction or condition / something that is independent of some or all relations

A believer in absolutism and absolutes is an absolutist.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Oct 14, 2016 at 16:44

In comments, FumbleFingers answered:

OED dogmatism - the tendency to lay down principles as undeniably true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others. There are plenty of written instances of dogmatic economists, for example, and I doubt many of them imply any connection to religion.

  • Well, not a bad suggestion, but "dogma" definitely has religious overtones too.
    – Casey
    Oct 10, 2016 at 19:59

I do not see any evidence that fundamentalism has a religious connotation, except that religions are more likely to bear fundamentalists than paradigms that are to some extent based on empirism or argument. For example Merriam–Webster defines fundamentalism as follows:

  1. a often capitalized : a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching
    b : the beliefs of this movement
    c : adherence to such beliefs

  2. : a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles <Islamic fundamentalism> <political fundamentalism>

The first definition is religious, but pertains to a specific religious movement and would also exclude, e.g., Islamic, Hindu, or Judaist fundamentalism.

This second definition already gives the example of political fundamentalism, which is not religious. Other non-religious usages that I found in a brief search include: market fundamentism, secular fundamentalism, materialist fundamentalism, Marxist fundamentalism, communist fundamentalism, left-wing fundamentalism, ecological fundamentalism, national fundamentalism, and Chicago fundamentalism.

The main difference of fundamentalism to what you want¹ is that there is no restriction on the source of the principles of the fundamentalist movement, while in your case, there is some sort of authority. So, it’s a little bit broader (unless you a set of principles qualifies as an authority).

¹ “the belief that there is a single or narrow range of correct interpretations of events or a circumscribed set of permitted actions in a particular situation as prescribed by an unquestionable authority”

  • I suspect the connotations vary by region. In my experience, if someone were described as a fundamentalist without qualifier it would be pretty universally understood to mean a Christian fundamentalist, so the word does definitely have connotations (not a denotation) of religiosity.
    – 1006a
    Oct 10, 2016 at 18:34
  • the problem is the OP has explained what I am looking for is a word that emphasizes a reliance on an unquestionable authority. that has utterly no connection to "fundamentalism" (indeed, when you use "fundamentalism" in a political sense, it's usually relating to some splinter group that is GOING AGAINST "current" authority). Yes, of course it's correct that the point made in this post is correct. (ie: "Fundamentalism" is used widely unrelated to religion.) But the question is a mess. "word that emphasizes a reliance on an unquestionable authority", it's not fundamentalism
    – Fattie
    Oct 11, 2016 at 11:10

Excluding possibilities that don't fit one's presumptions sounds like narrow-mindedness.

narrow-minded ADJ not willing to accept opinions, beliefs, or behaviors that are unusual or different from your own; lacking in tolerance or breadth of vision

narrow-mindedly adverb; narrow-mindedness noun - MW


Orthodoxy may refer to contexts that are not only religious but also political, social, economical etc.

  • a belief or a way of thinking that is accepted as true or correct.


  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Oct 14, 2016 at 16:45

I think the word you need is purist, or purism

Purist is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as - a person who insists on absolute adherence to traditional rules or structures, especially in language or style.

Purism is scrupulous or exaggerated observance of or insistence on traditional rules or structures, especially in language or style.

Please note that Purist and Purism also exist as proper nouns referring to an early form of 20th century art, emphasising purity of geometric form.

  • Totally irrelevantly, there's an article about Chomsky's Universal Grammar that touches on the Wolf controversy. I mention this in a comment over on Linguistics.SE
    – Mitch
    Oct 18, 2016 at 0:59

Authoritarian: "favoring complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom" (dictionary.com)

In an authoritarian system, following the rules is the most important thing, maybe even more important than the rules themselves. There can even be a sense that "the following of rules" and "the obedience to authority" are intrinsically correct and right things, regardless of anything else (such as whether the rules themselves are just, or whether the authorities are corrupt, etc.)


Conformism (definitions are for conformist)

A person who uncritically or habitually conforms to the customs, rules, or styles of a group.


a person who conforms, especially unquestioningly, to the usual practices or standards of a group, society, etc.



Intolerance too may work.


intolerance NOUN

1 [mass noun] Unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviour that differ from one's own.

‘He beckoned us to be more understanding and tolerant, at a time when intolerance abounded.’


I would use fanaticism or fanatic, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as "excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion" and the OED as "tendency to indulge in wild and extravagant notions, esp. in religious matters; excessive enthusiasm, frenzy".

  • Sigh, when the O.E.D. definition you cite states "esp. in religious matters," I think that suggests strong religious connotations, which is what the question seeks to avoid.
    – Tonepoet
    Oct 9, 2016 at 17:43
  • I know the answers I voted against have been secularly applied. That isn't the problem: Connotations often ignore context, and sometimes even intent. All I want from these answers is to show that they have more dissociation from religion than fanaticism does. Otherwise, my personal experience suggests they're just as bad as what the questioner already discarded and shouldn't be suggested as that implies otherwise. If you can show me that the rate of secular use is statistically higher for your answer than fanaticism, perhaps with a Google Ngrams chart, I'll redact my claim against your answer.
    – Tonepoet
    Oct 10, 2016 at 16:58

Dogmatism. Dogmatic people adhere to strict interpretation of accepted knowledge and teachings.

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    – Wrzlprmft
    Oct 9, 2016 at 21:32

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