strict adherence to, or observance of, prescribed or traditional forms, as in music, poetry, and art.
Religion. strong attachment to external forms and observances.
Ethics. a doctrine that acts are in themselves right or wrong regardless of consequences.
Logic, Mathematics. a doctrine, which evolved from a proposal of David Hilbert, that mathematics, including the logic used in proofs, can be based on the formal manipulation of symbols without regard to their meaning.

1830–40; formal1 + -ism

formalist, noun, adjective
formalistic, adjective
formalistically, adverb
antiformalist, noun, adjective
nonformalism, noun
nonformalistic, adjective
unformalistic, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
formalism (ˈfɔːməˌlɪzəm)
1.  scrupulous or excessive adherence to outward form at the expense of inner reality or content
2.  a.  the mathematical or logical structure of a scientific argument as distinguished from its subject matter
 b.  the notation, and its structure, in which information is expressed
3.  theatre a stylized mode of production
4.  (in Marxist criticism) excessive concern with artistic technique at the expense of social values, etc
5.  logicism Compare intuitionism the philosophical theory that a mathematical statement has no meaning but that its symbols, regarded as physical objects, exhibit a structure that has useful applications

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

1840, "strict adherence to prescribed forms," from formal + -ism. Attested from 1943 in reference to the Russian literary movement (1916-30). Related: Formalist.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
Even in offhanded conversation, he sculpts phrases with the elegant formalism
  of a master coder.
Dogma, rigidly prescribed by tradition, stiffens into formalism.
Examines the physics behind the mathematical formalism of the theory of
After a while, you realize that the film is a case of ersatz formalism
  disguising chaos.
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