Fanaticism is an unusual level of devotion to a particular topic, ranging from a sports team to a science fiction franchise. Fanatics may transgress social norms in their eagerness to pursue their interests and can alienate or upset people with their zeal. Historically, this term has been closely associated with religious fanaticism, but many other topics can become subjects of fixation or obsession.
Several things can characterize fanaticism. One is a sense of devotion with minimal critical analysis or thinking, often paired with intolerance for people who challenge or question the topic of interest. This can differentiate fanatics from more casual fans and people who share the interest; a fanatic will hotly resist anything that might besmirch the reputation of her interests. Fanatics can also be very single minded and intense, and it can be difficult to redirect their attentions onto other topics.
Strong emotions can surround fanaticism; people may feel especially connected to a subject, and can dedicate substantial amounts of time to researching to learn more about it. Their interest is very deep and comprehensive; anything even vaguely related is grist for the fanatic's mill. This contrasts with people who may be interested in a topic, and can spend time researching and compiling data, but usually have limits on their levels of dedication.
In some individuals, fanaticism can become unhealthy. People devoted to a single topic may not have balanced interests and social lives and could have trouble interacting with other people, finding work, and successfully navigating social situations. When a fanatic is consumed with a particular topic, that person may forget other activities and responsibilities and can spend time, as well as money, chasing down any and all related information. A fanatic might, for example, make a point of attending every single concert put on by a favorite pop artist.
Fanaticism can also have political and social consequences. Extreme interpretations of religious ideologies and absolutist religious beliefs can contribute to sectarian violence, as well as repressive acts of legislation. Sports fanaticism can lead to rioting that may turn violent, leading to deaths among participants. In their zeal to defend their cause, fanatics may threaten or injure naysayers, such as a reviewer offering a less than favorable treatment of a movie with a large fanatic following.
Signs of fanaticism can sometimes be hard to identify in their early stages. Interests pursued by fanatics are normal, and the shift from simply following something closely to becoming extremely zealous may happen slowly.