What is Fanaticism?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Fanaticism is an unusual, overzealous level of devotion to a particular topic.
Fanaticism is an unusual, overzealous level of devotion to a particular topic.

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.

Fanatics may transgress social norms while pursuing their interests, which can alienate or anger other people with their enthusiasm.
Fanatics may transgress social norms while pursuing their interests, which can alienate or anger other people with their enthusiasm.

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.

Fanaticism can sometimes backfire if a fan's favorite team loses.
Fanaticism can sometimes backfire if a fan's favorite team loses.

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.

Fanatics often go overboard in their support.
Fanatics often go overboard in their support.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I wonder about a certain teen I know. He seems abnormally attached to the internet in general, and to online gaming, specifically. His obsession causes him to miss social opportunities, to shirk household chores and he has even gone so far as to install remote access tools (RATs) on other people's computers to allow him to circumvent parental controls that limit his internet activity. Does this sound like fanaticism to anyone else?


I think that fanaticism is more common in certain personality types than others. In fact, I think that some types of fanaticism like religious fanaticism and mental illness might be connected somehow.

I know someone who was a fanatic about his religion. So much so that he hated anyone and everyone who did not belong to it or who spoke negatively about it. Then, he had some bad experiences with people who belonged to the same religion and completely changed his mind. He went from a fanatic devotee to a fanatic atheist overnight. Now he hates religion in general and continuously talks about how he doesn't believe in God.

I personally don't understand how someone can carry such extreme emotions about something. I think it's the nature of fanaticism and some people are born with this quality. Or maybe it's a symptom of a mental or psychological disorder that requires treatment.


I think that fanaticism, and political fanaticism in particular, has gotten worse in the Information Age. Political fanatics today can completely immerse themselves in their particular political beliefs by only going to certain websites or watching and listening only to certain programs, allowing them to essentially close themselves off from the rest of the world and any ideas they don't want to hear.

Of course, this is also true of other sources of fanaticism, such as sports; there are so many blogs and forums for each of the professional sports teams out there that you can literally read them for hours, and some of the arguments I have seen between sports fans online are the very definition of fanaticism. It doesn't help that people seem to be nastier online to strangers than they are face-to-face, which seems to entrench fanaticism even more deeply because some people just can't simply disagree, they also have to brand anyone who doesn't agree with them as an enemy.


When I was in high school all the girls in my class were fanatical about a certain boy band. I am positive the level of obsession some of the girls had would have been what you would see under the fanaticism definition in the dictionary.

I remember that a few of the girls, beyond owning everything possible about the band, actually took to going to all their concerts. They must have spent thousands securing front row seats.

Apparently they eventually met their band, after hiding out under their tour bus! It was sheer craziness and teenage girls to this day worry me with their obsessions.


I live in a town of what I thought were all sports fanatics, but after reading this article, I see that only a select few are devoted enough to fit that bill. Some of them will turn on the team if they have a losing streak, while others would shed blood in a fight to defend their honor.

There are a few individuals who dress in clothing with the local college team’s logo on it every day. All of their coffee cups, bags, caps, and other brandable items have the logo on them as well.

Whenever they strike up a conversation, it always starts with sports talk. Even if you change the subject, they will find a way to work it back around to the team.

These people even spend the entire off season thinking about the team. They live for the fall, when there will be a new game every week. They follow the team wherever they play, and of course, they have season tickets.


I used to be a fanatic about a certain rock band. I was a teenager, and I desperately needed something to focus my devotion and love upon. I didn’t have a boyfriend, so I fell in love with stars.

This was back in the days before the internet, so I had to join the fan club to get updated information. I scanned the magazine shelves of the bookstore to find any featuring photos or articles about them.

I sat by the TV with a blank tape in my VCR, ready to hit record when one of their videos or an interview with them came on. I had all their tapes, and I bought any documentaries or collections of videos that were for sale.

Looking back, it was really exhausting! I’m glad I’m free of the need to follow the band. I’ve got my own real life to live now, and that’s tiring enough.


@StarJo - I know what you mean. I have a friend who absolutely hates Christians, but she bases her opinion on how those fanatics act toward other people. I have told her that she cannot just group everyone of the faith together, because they are all so different.

I know several people in my neighborhood who have come to despise all Islamic people. Islamic fanaticism and the murdering of Christians has made them think that all people of this faith are evil. They don’t realize that not all of them are out to bomb infidels.

I have an Asian philosophy class with some people of the Islamic faith, and they tell me the same thing about their situation that you have pointed out about Christianity. People’s perception of them makes daily life difficult.


Christian fanaticism can turn some people away from the religion altogether. One group of people who twist the doctrine and distort the principles can give the impression that this is what the religion is all about.

I’m referring to those people who protest at soldiers’ funerals and burn down abortion clinics. They spread a message of hate in the name of God, which is the exact opposite of true Christianity.

Christians belief that God is love, and life is all about spreading His love to others. Those who promote hate or condemnation do great injustice to this religion.

I am a Christian, and I hate it when people group me with these fanatics. I set them straight very quickly by telling them that this sect of believers has become obsessed with the wrong thing and has lost the heart of the faith.

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