Karen Armstrong

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Karen Armstrong
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{{about|the religious author|the operatic soprano|Karan Armstrong}}{{Use British English|date=June 2015}}{{Use dmy dates|date=December 2013}}

| image = Karen_Armstrong.jpg| image_size = | caption =| birth_name = df=yes11|14}}| birth_place = Wildmoor, Worcestershire, England| alma_mater = St Anne's College, Oxford| institution =| death_date =| death_place =| occupation = Writer| nationality = British| period =| genre =| influences =| signature =weblink}}}}Karen Armstrong, {{post-nominals|country=GBR|sep=,|OBE|FRSL}} (born 14 November 1944) is a British author and commentator of Irish Catholic descent known for her books on comparative religion.NEWS, Karen Armstrong on Sam Harris and Bill Maher: "It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps", Michael, Schulson,weblink Salon (website), Salon, 23 November 2014, 7 June 2018, A former Roman Catholic religious sister, she went from a conservative to a more liberal and mystical Christian faith. She attended St Anne's College, Oxford, while in the convent and majored in English. She became disillusioned and left the convent in 1969. Her work focuses on commonalities of the major religions, such as the importance of compassion and the Golden Rule.Armstrong received the US$100,000 TED Prize in February 2008. She used that occasion to call for the creation of a Charter for Compassion, which was unveiled the following year.

Early life

Armstrong was born at Wildmoor, Worcestershire,BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, Through A Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery, Macmillan, 2005, Revised, 7, 0-312-34095-8, into a family of Irish ancestry who, after her birth, moved to Bromsgrove and later to Birmingham. In 1962, at the age of 18, she became a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, a teaching congregation, in which she remained for seven years. Armstrong claims she suffered physical and psychological abuse in the convent; according to an article in The Guardian newspaper, "Armstrong was required to mortify her flesh with whips and wear a spiked chain around her arm. When she spoke out of turn, she claims she was forced to sew at a treadle machine with no needle for a fortnight."NEWS, Karen Armstrong: The compassionate face of religion, Vanessa, Thorpe,weblink The Guardian, 2 October 2010, Once she had advanced from postulant and novice to professed nun, she enrolled in St Anne's College, Oxford, to study English. Armstrong left her order in 1969 while still a student at Oxford. After graduating with a Congratulatory First, she embarked on a DPhil on the poet Tennyson. According to Armstrong, she wrote her dissertation on a topic that had been approved by the university committee. Nevertheless, it was failed by her external examiner on the grounds that the topic had been unsuitable.Armstrong, Karen. The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out Of Darkness. New York: Random House, 2004. Armstrong did not formally protest this verdict, nor did she embark upon a new topic but instead abandoned hope of an academic career. She reports that this period in her life was marked by ill-health stemming from her lifelong but, at that time, still undiagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy.JOURNAL, McGrath, Alister, 2006, Spirituality and well-being: some recent discussions, Brain, 129, 1, 278–282,weblink 10.1093/brain/awh719, MAGAZINE, The runaway nun,weblink Peter, Stanford, New Statesman, 5 April 2004, 16 August 2019, Around this time she was lodged with Jenifer and Herbert Hart, looking after their disabled son, as told in her memoir The Spiral Staircase.


In 1976, Armstrong took a job teaching English at James Allen's Girls' School in Dulwich while working on a memoir of her convent experiences. This was published in 1982 as Through the Narrow Gate to excellent reviews. That year she embarked on a new career as an independent writer and broadcasting presenter. In 1984, the British Channel Four commissioned her to write and present a television documentary on the life of St. Paul, The First Christian, a project that involved traveling to the Holy Land to retrace the steps of the saint. Armstrong described this visit as a "breakthrough experience" that defied her prior assumptions and provided the inspiration for virtually all her subsequent work. In A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (1993), she traces the evolution of the three major monotheistic traditions from their beginnings in the Middle East up to the present day and also discusses Hinduism and Buddhism. As guiding "luminaries" in her approach, Armstrong acknowledges (in The Spiral Staircase and elsewhere) the late Canadian theologian Wilfred Cantwell Smith, a Protestant minister,See The Case for God, p. 87, footnote 42 and the Jesuit father Bernard Lonergan.The Case for God, p. 283. In 1996, she published Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths.Armstrong's The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006) continues the themes covered in A History of God and examines the emergence and codification of the world's great religions during the so-called Axial age identified by Karl Jaspers. In the year of its publication Armstrong was invited to choose her eight favourite records for BBC Radio's Desert Island Discs programme.WEB,weblink Desert Island Discs, February 12, 2006: Karen Armstrong, 9 April 2008, BBC Radio 4 Website, She has made several appearances on television, including on Rageh Omaar's programme The Life of Muhammad. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages.WEB,weblink Karen Armstrong, Turkovich, Marilyn, Charter for Compassion, en-gb, 2019-04-30, She was an advisor for the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentary (Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet) (2002), produced by Unity Productions Foundation.In 2007 the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore invited Armstrong to deliver the MUIS Lecture.Karen Armstrong delivers the 2007 MUIS lecture, is a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars and laypeople which attempts to investigate the historical foundations of Christianity. She has written numerous articles for The Guardian and for other publications. She was a key advisor on Bill Moyers' popular PBS series on religion, has addressed members of the United States Congress, and was one of three scholars to speak at the UN's first ever session on religion.Karen Armstrong Speaker Profile at The Lavin Agency, {{webarchive |url= |date=17 May 2008 }} She is a vice-president of the British Epilepsy Association, otherwise known as Epilepsy Action.Armstrong, who has taught courses at Leo Baeck College, a rabbinical college and centre for Jewish education located in North London, says she has been particularly inspired by the Jewish tradition's emphasis on practice as well as faith: "I say that religion isn't about believing things. It's about what you do. It's ethical alchemy. It's about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness."Dave Weich, "Karen Armstrong, Turn, Turn, Turn". She maintains that religious fundamentalism is not just a response to, but is a product of contemporary cultureWEB,weblink Voices on Antisemtisim interview with Karen Armstrong, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 5 July 2007, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 15 February 2012, dmy-all, and for this reason concludes that, "We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community."The Charter for Compassion. {{webarchive|url= |date=10 May 2011 }}Awarded the $100,000 TED Prize in February 2008, Armstrong called for drawing up a Charter for Compassion, in the spirit of the Golden Rule, to identify shared moral priorities across religious traditions, in order to foster global understanding and a peaceful world.WEB,weblink TEDPrize 2008 Winner :: Karen Armstrong, 19 March 2008, TEDPrize Website, It was presented in Washington, D.C. in November 2009. Signatories include Queen Noor of Jordan, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Paul Simon.NEWS, Chapman, Glenn, Online call for religions to embrace compassion, Agence France-Presse, 12 November 2009,weblink 12 November 2009, In 2012, the Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue recognized her outstanding achievement in advancing understanding about and among world religions, and promoting compassion as a way of life. During her award residency in Canada, Armstrong gave the "State of the Charter for Compassion Global Address" and co-launched a compassionate cities initiative in Vancouver.WEB, Twelve Days of Compassion with Karen Armstrong,weblink 1 March 2019,


In 1999 Armstrong received the Muslim Public Affairs Council's Media Award.WEB,weblink Last Chance to Buy Your Tickets to MPAC Media Awards Gala on Sunday, June 1st, Muslim Public Affairs Council, 25 December 2011, WEB,weblink Karen Armstrong, Westar Institute, 25 December 2011, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 14 November 2011, WEB,weblink Bill Moyers Journal, Karen Armstrong, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 13 March 2009, 25 December 2011, Armstrong was honoured by the New York Open Center in 2004 for her "profound understanding of religious traditions and their relation to the divine."WEB,weblink 2009, 9 October 2009, Open Center Gala Honorees, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 3 November 2009, She received an honorary degree as Doctor of Letters by Aston University in 2006.WEB,weblink Honorary Graduates of the University, Aston University, 25 December 2011, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 25 June 2010, In May 2008 she was awarded the Freedom of Worship Award by the Roosevelt Institute, one of four medals presented each year to men and women whose achievements have demonstrated a commitment to the Four Freedoms proclaimed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 as essential to democracy: freedom of speech and of worship, freedom from want and from fear. The institute stated that Armstrong had become "a significant voice, seeking mutual understanding in times of turbulence, confrontation and violence among religious groups." It cited "her personal dedication to the ideal that peace can be found in religious understanding, for her teachings on compassion, and her appreciation for the positive sources of spirituality."WEB,weblink The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards: Freedom of Worship: Karen Armstrong, 28 June 2008, 2008, Four Freedoms Award website, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, She also received the TED Prize 2008.WEB,weblink 2008 Winners, TED Prize, 25 December 2011, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 18 January 2010, In 2009 she was awarded the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the University of Tübingen.BOOK, Armstrong, Karen., Plädoyer für Gott, 2010, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 978-3-16-150305-4, 108,weblinkweblink" title="">weblink yes, 2014-03-22, Armstrong was honoured with the Nationalencyklopedin's International Knowledge Award 2011WEB,weblinkweblink" title="">weblink yes, 21 April 2012, Intervju med Karen Armstrong, The Knowledge Awards, 25 December 2011, "for her long standing work of bringing knowledge to others about the significance of religion to humankind and, in particular, for pointing out the similarities between religions. Through a series of books and award-winning lectures she reaches out as a peace-making voice at a time when world events are becoming increasingly linked to religion."On 12 May 2010, she was made honorary Doctor of Divinity by Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario).WEB,weblink Former Prime Minister Paul Martin among Queen's honorary degree recipients, , Queen's GazetteOn 30 November 2011 (St Andrew's Day), Armstrong was made honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Saint Andrews.WEB,weblink The point of religion, 16 November 2011, University of St Andrews, News archive.On 20 March 2012, Karen Armstrong was awarded the 2011/12 Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue for her work in advancing understanding about and among world religions.WEB, Twelve Days of Compassion with Karen Armstrong,weblink 1 March 2019, In 2013, she was awarded the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding by the British Academy "in recognition of her body of work that has made a significant contribution to understanding the elements of overlap and commonality in different cultures and religions".WEB, Celebrated British author Karen Armstrong wins inaugural prize for her contribution to global interfaith understanding,weblink British Academy, 23 July 2017, 4 July 2013, On 3 June 2014, she was made an honorary Doctor of Divinity by McGill University.WEB,weblink Fourteen individuals to receive honorary degree from McGill, 30 April 2014, McGill Reporter, In 2017 Armstrong was bestowed Princess of Asturias award in recognition of her investigations into world religions.NEWS,weblink Ciaran, Giles, Aritz Parra, Religion Scholar Karen Armstrong Wins Top Spanish Award, Associated Press, 31 May 2017,


Armstrong has been called "a prominent and prolific religious historian" by The Washington PostNEWS,weblink Review of Karen Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life", Bonos, Lisa, 16 January 2011, Washington Post, 21 May 2011, and described as "arguably the most lucid, wide-ranging and consistently interesting religion writer today".WEB,weblink "Buddha" by Karen Armstrong, Miller, Laura, Salon, 21 May 2011, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 7 August 2011, dmy-all, Juan Eduardo Campo, author of the Encyclopedia of Islam (Encyclopedia of World Religions) (2009), included Armstrong among a group of scholars whom he considered as currently conveying a "more or less objective" (as opposed to polemical) view of Islam and its origins to a wide public in Europe and North America.JOURNAL, Juan Eduardo Campo, Review of [Muhammad and the Origins of Islam] by F. E. Peters, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 28, 4, 597–599, November 1996, 10.1017/s0020743800063911, After the September 11 attacks she was in great demand as a lecturer, pleading for inter-faith dialogue.BOOK, The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism, Paul, Cliteur, Paul Cliteur, John Wiley & Sons, 2010, 1-4443-9044-9, 249,weblink Extract of page 249The New Atheist activist Sam Harris criticizes Armstrong's "benign" view of Islam, contending that "Islam, as it is currently understood and practiced by vast numbers of the world's Muslims, is antithetical to civil society."NEWS, Harris, Sam, 5 May 2008, Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks,weblink The Huffington Post, 21 May 2014, Harris is also strongly critical of Armstrong's "religious apology" of Islamic fundamentalism, accusing her and like-minded scholars of political correctness. Armstrong has also attracted the criticism of the evangelical Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig. In Craig's response to a debate between Armstrong and the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, published in the 12 September 2009 issue of The Wall Street Journal,NEWS, Armstrong, Karen, Dawkins, Richard, 12 September 2009, Man vs. God,weblink The Wall Street Journal, 21 May 2014, Craig criticizes Armstrong's "anti-realist" views about statements concerning God, particularly her assertion that "'God' is merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence." Craig argues that Armstrong's view of God as ineffable is "self-refuting" and "logically incoherent". Craig also disputes Armstrong's characterization of the religious views of early Christians.PODCAST,weblink Dawkins vs. Armstrong, Reasonable Faith, Craig, William Lane, 20 September 2009, 16:50, 21 May 2014, Hugh Fitzgerald, writing for the New English Review, criticized Armstrong's use of historical argument, stating: "Karen Armstrong is not innocent, and manages to do a great deal of harm, careless or premeditated harm, to history."WEB,weblink Karen Armstrong: The Coherence of Her Incoherence,, 2019-06-23, In particular, he criticizes her description of Christopher Columbus as a "Jewish convert to Catholicism", a theory that Fitzgerald suggests is not supported in mainstream academia.WEB,weblink Karen Armstrong: The Coherence of Her Incoherence,, 2019-06-23, Armstrong has been criticized for her understanding of theology and medieval history, especially in conservative publications First Things and National Review.WEB,weblink The Selective Compassion of Karen Armstrong {{!, Joe Carter|website=First Things|language=en|access-date=2019-06-23}}WEB,weblink Raymond, Ibrahim, Islamic Apologetics, 2007-05-07, National Review, en-US, 2019-06-23, In 2014, Armstrong commented on comedian Bill Maher's criticism of Islam by telling Salon "this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe. This is the kind of thing people were saying about Jews in the 1930s and '40s in Europe." Maher responded to Armstrong's comments by telling Vanity Fair, "It's beyond stupid. Jews weren't oppressing anybody. There weren't 5,000 militant Jewish groups. They didn't do a study of treatment of women around the world and find that the Jews were at the bottom of it. There weren't 10 Jewish countries in the world that were putting gay people to death just for being gay. It's idiotic."WEB,weblink Petition All You Want, Bill Maher Will Speak at Berkeley, Sally, Kohn, 4 December 2014, 7 June 2018, WEB,weblink Joanna, Rothkopf, "It's beyond stupid": Bill Maher responds to backlash against Islam views, 5 December 2014, Salon, 7 June 2018, After that Armstrong reiterated her criticism of Maher by telling The New York Times, "My problem with some current critics of Islam is that their criticism is neither accurate, fair, nor well-informed. I am sure they do not intend this, but in the 1930s and '40s in Europe, we learned how dangerous and ultimately destructive this kind of discourse could be."WEB,weblink The Blame Game: Karen Armstrong Talks About 'Fields of Blood', John, Williams, 26 December 2014, 7 June 2018,



{{external media| float = right| video1 = Presentation by Armstrong on The Battle for God, April 6, 2000, C-SPAN| video2 = Booknotes interview with Armstrong on Islam: A Short History, October 22, 2000, C-SPAN| video3 = Discussion with Armstrong on Buddha, March 9, 2001, C-SPAN| video4 = Presentation by Armstrong on Islam: A Short History, August 1, 2002, C-SPAN| video5 = Presentation by Armstrong on The Spiral Staircase, March 8, 2004, C-SPAN| video6 = Presentation by Armstrong on The Great Transformation, April 3, 2006, C-SPAN| video7 = Presentation by Armstrong on Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time, November 20, 2006, C-SPAN| video8 = After Words interview with Armstrong on Fields of Blood, November 15, 2014, C-SPAN}}
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1982, Through the Narrow Gate, London, Pan Books, 978-0-333-31136-3
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1983, The First Christian: Saint Paul's Impact on Christianity, London, Pan Books, 978-0-330-28161-4
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1983, Beginning the World, London, Pan Books, 978-0-333-35017-1
  • Tongues of Fire: An Anthology of Religious and Poetic Experience. Editor. Harmondsworth, England: Viking Press. 1985. {{ISBN|978-0-670-80878-6}}.
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1986, The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West, London, Pan Books, 978-0-330-29744-8
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1988, Holy War: The Crusades and their Impact on Today's World
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1991, (Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet)
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1991, The English Mystics of the Fourteenth Century
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1993, The End of Silence: Women and the Priesthood
, ,
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1993, The End of Silence: Women and the Priesthood
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1994, Visions of God : Four Medieval Mystics and Their Writings
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1996, In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2000, (Islam: A Short History)
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2000
The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam),
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2001
Buddha (book)>Buddha,
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2002, Faith After 11 September
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2004, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out Of Darkness
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2005, A Short History of Myth
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2006, (Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time)
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2006, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, 978-0-375-41317-9
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2007, The Bible: A Biography
, ,
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2010, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, 978-0-307-59559-1
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2011, A Letter to Pakistan, Oxford University Press, 978-0-19-906330-7
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2014, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, Bodley Head, 978-1-84792-186-4
, NEWS, McGirr, Michael, Book Review: Battling with the evils of humanity,weblink 19 October 2014, The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 2014,
  • BOOK, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2015, St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate, New Harvest, 978-0-54461-739-1,

Journal articles

  • JOURNAL, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1977, Women, Tourism, Politics, Anthropological Quarterly, 50, 3, 135–145, 0003-5491, 10.2307/3317593
  • JOURNAL, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 1998, The Holiness of Jerusalem: Asset or Burden?, Journal of Palestine Studies, 27, 3, 5–19, 0377-919X, 2537831, 10.2307/2537831
  • JOURNAL, Armstrong, Karen, 0, 2000, Ambiguity and Remembrance: Individual and Collective Memory in Finland, American Ethnologist, 27, 3, 591–608, 0094-0496, 647352, 10.1525/ae.2000.27.3.591

See also



External links

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