If we limited our exploration of fundamentalism to the Christian tradition, or to the Abrahamic religions, we might be content with a presentation of modernity that restricted itself to the transformations linked to industrialization, with all its consequences for culture and society in the Western world. However, we want to understand global historical trends that have led to the emergence of fundamentalist movements in several of the world religions. In this chapter, I will look at how colonialism and the piecemeal building of European empires were part of the process of modernity and how the colonial expansion of Europe laid the foundation for the diffusion of new styles of religious leadership and religious organizations in other cultures. Between 1800 and 1950, the European empires, the British in particular, provided the institutions through which modern Christian concepts and ideals of religious leadership and organization were communicated to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs. This global exchange of concepts and values is a side of modernity that is somewhat underexplored but nevertheless of vital importance for an understanding of fundamentalism outside the Christian world.
The modern historical development of Europe is not a model or standard that other societies necessarily will emulate. However, it is obvious that the West has exerted great influence on other cultures and societies over the past two centuries, and nobody seriously doubts that intensive interaction across cultures is a defining feature of the modern period in world history. The modern age stands out as distinct from earlier epochs because of the intensity and systematic nature of the cross- cultural interactions that have driven it. In the most general sense, the interactions between Western and non-Western societies in the modern period, and particularly since the nineteenth century, make up the context for the development of fundamentalism in the world religions.