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Triumphalism is the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others. Triumphalism is not an articulated doctrine but rather a term that is used to characterize certain attitudes or belief systems by parties such as political commentators and historians.



The term triumphalism is what anthropologists call an "observer's category"; it is generally taken as having a pejorative sense (see the Oxford English Dictionary) and few members of groups would identify themselves as being triumphalist.

The term is sometimes used to refer to relatively inconsequential behavior, such as excessively demonstrative glee at the defeat or failure of a sports rival. People experience triumphalism in this recreational form as collective pride (e.g., school spirit) or sports fanaticism (“We’re Number One!”).

Triumphalism also takes more consequential forms, including extreme forms of patriotism, nationalism, ideological, or religious extremism.

Triumphalists may derive a sense of pride, security, or virtue from their sense of superiority and expectation of ultimate triumph. However, those who believe in their own group’s superiority or inevitable ascendancy do not typically claim the label ‘triumphalist’. Instead, the term usually has a negative connotation and is used by those who do not accept the superiority of the belief or group in question, or by those who are warning against the effects of over-confidence and hubris within their own group.


Triumphalism may both benefit and prove detrimental to the survival of a doctrine, culture, or social system. Dangers[1] include:

  • Impaired ability to judge the value or morality of the group's actions;
  • Cessation of creativity and innovation within the group;
  • Blindness to other groups’ strengths and innovations;
  • A tendency to over-reach against the group’s competitors, based on an inflated sense of the likelihood of triumph in conflict.

At the same time, triumphalism also provides impetus to proselytization, conquest and the general expansion of a group or doctrine. Many successful historical movements have worked from a triumphalist base. Examples include the Islamic conquests of the 7th century, European colonialism, and the concept of manifest destiny which helped the United States to dominance in North America and eventually the world, in the process transforming itself into what some call the American empire.

Movements need not be triumphalist to be dynamic and successful. The Western drive for the emancipation of women and the civil rights movement, for instance, succeeded on the basis of egalitarianism rather than triumphalism.


2005, Muslim

  • The upshot of the matter is that to reduce Islam—with its transcendental moral essence which is based on commitment to 'enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong’—is universal. (Qu'ran 3:103) Those who reduce Islam to an ideological agenda, under the socio-political reality...and all the Muslim triumphalism that this brings, simply have not understood the message of Islam comprehensively. Tarek A Ghanem, in Islam Online [1]

2004, Jewish

  • Yet in addition to being self-defeating, sectarian triumphalism undermines core Jewish values of common peoplehood and mutual bonds between Jews worldwide. Steven Bayme, in The Jewish Week

2004, American

  • The abasement rituals at Abu Ghraib were most generally conditioned by the climate of impunity created by triumphalist strategy, ideology and rhetoric, which led, at least, to dismissive negligence and then cover-ups by authorities. Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, in The Power and Interest News Report

2001, scientific

  • A better understanding of science should lead not to triumphalism but to the kind of humility recently expressed by Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Francois Jacob in Of Flies, Mice and Men: "Science cannot answer all questions. . . . It can, however, give some indications, exclude certain hypotheses. Engaging in the pursuit of science may help us make fewer mistakes.” Jon Beckwith, in American Scientist Online

2001, Christian

  • Christian triumphalism has been the energy that has marred our missionary efforts around the globe and in all ages. Consider what we have done to the Native Americans in this country - from the time of Columbus to the time of the great Western Migration. .... Just read Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible to get a sense of the effects of Christian triumphalism.” The Rev. Canon Elizabeth Kaeton, in a sermon preached at Christ Episcopal Church, New Jersey on September 23, 2001 [2]

1994, Soviet

  • But not only did Soviet triumphalism eventually provoke the Reaganite reaction in the United States, but, Kissinger suggests, it produced the over-extension of Soviet resources that led directly to economic and ultimately political collapse. Michael Howard, in Foreign Affairs.

See also


  1. ^ Kimball, C: "When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs", HarperCollinsSanFrancisco, 2002

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