The term fundamentalist was coined in 1917. Ironically, fundamentalists chose the word because they felt that "conservative" would be too prejudicial; they wanted to find a word that wouldn't have any negative connotations.

The name derives from the idea that Christian ministers should be required to affirm some fundamental beliefs of Christianity. The fundamentals usually chosen are:

  1. The verbal inerrancy of the Bible.
  2. The literal truth of the virgin birth.
  3. The bodily resurrection of Jesus.
  4. The doctrine of substutionary atonement.
  5. The personal return of Jesus Christ to the earth.

Other lists were created. The term "fundamentalist" also drew on the publication of The Fundamentals, a multi-volume collection of articles on Christian teaching by conservative theologians that was funded by Lyman Stewart (one of the owners of Union Oil), published in 1910, and distributed in the tens of thousands to Christian ministers.

Fundamentalism was originally a movement in a few northern Protestant Denominations, especially the American Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America. Between 1922 and 1926, fundamentalists, particularly Presbyterians, attempted to pass regulations requiring ministers and teachers to affirm these fundamental truths in order to function within their denominations. Although most Baptists and Presbyterians shared the beliefs of the fundamentalists, fewer were willing to enforce doctrinal standards on their clergy. The fundamentalist movement was definitely defeated after the public relations disaster of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Thanks to the courtroom performance of Clarence Darrow and the satire of H. L. Mencken, fundamentalism was firmly associated with ignorance and Appalachia--even though its leaders were northern pastors and professors, particularly the staff of Princeton Seminary.

By 1930, the fundamentalists had been totally defeated by their modernist opponents. The victorious modernists enthusiastically endorsed the view of fundamentalism as a rural, backwards-looking movement, and developed the idea that fundamentalism is a social phenomenon rather than one based in Christian belief. Thus, the term "fundamentalism" was applied to any religious movement whose opponents wanted to label as anti-modern.

From 1930-1960, fundamentalists built educational and organizational structures that gave their movement a firm grounding. Fundamentalism first returned to the attention of the non-religious media when Billy Graham began his successful revivals and the growth of evangelical Christianity and the religious right. Although "evangelicals" have avoided the label of "fundamentalism" because of its negative connotations, modern evangelical Protestants are the direct intellectual descendants of the early fundamentalists.

For more details, check out Christian Fundamentalism.