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Karen Armstrong - Author

About the Author

Karen Armstrong is one of the world's leading commentators on religious affairs. She spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun in the 1960s, but then left her teaching order in 1969 to read English at Oxford. In 1982 she became a full-time writer and broadcaster. The best-selling author of over sixteen books, she is a passionate campaigner for religious liberty.

Featured books by Karen Armstrong

Fields of Blood Religion and the History of Violence

Fields of Blood Religion and the History of Violence

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Hardback Release Date: 25/09/2014

Countering the atheist claim that believers are by default violent fanatics and religion is the cause of all major wars, Karen Armstrong demonstrates that religious faith is not inherently violent. In fact, the world's major religions have throughout their history displayed ambivalent attitudes towards aggression and warfare. At times they have allied themselves with states and empires for protection or to further their influence; at others they have tried to curb state oppression and aggression and worked for peace and justice. Taking us on a journey from prehistoric times to the present, Karen Armstrong contrasts medieval crusaders and modern-day jihadists with the pacifism of the Buddha and Jesus' vision of a just and peaceful society; moreover, she demonstrates that the underlying reasons - social, economic, political - for war and violence in our history often had very little to do with religion. While human beings have a natural propensity for aggression, collective violence and warfare emerged at a certain point in history when the invention of agriculture created a society and a state based on the accumulation of wealth. For most of history our destructive potential could be contained but with the industrialised warfare and all-powerful state of the modern age, humanity is on the brink of destroying itself. Vast in scope, impeccably researched and passionately argued, Fields of Blood is more than a corrective to the prevailing view that religion is to blame for most of the bloodshed throughout human history: it is a celebration of those religious ideas and movements that have opposed war and aggression and promoted peace and reconciliation.

Other books by Karen Armstrong

The Case for God What religion really means

The Case for God What religion really means

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 01/07/2010

There is widespread confusion about the nature of religious truth. For the first time in history, a significantly large number of people want nothing to do with God. Militant atheists preach a gospel of godlessness with the zeal of missionaries and find an eager audience. Tracing the history of faith from the Palaeolithic Age to the present, Karen Armstrong shows that meaning of words such as 'belief', 'faith', and 'mystery' has been entirely altered, so that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God - and, indeed, reason itself - in a way that our ancestors would have found astonishing. Does God have a future? Karen Armstrong examines how we can build a faith that speaks to the needs of our troubled and dangerously polarised world.

The Battle for God Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

The Battle for God Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 26/11/2009

Britain's greatest religious historian chronicles the rise and rise of fundamentalism. One of the most potent forces bedevilling the modern world is religious extremism, and the need to understand it has never been greater. Focusing in detail on Protestant fundamentalism in the United States, Jewish fundamentalism from sixteenth century Spain onwards and Muslim fundamentalism over the last four hundred years, Armstrong examines the patterns that underlie fundamentalism. These evolve from the clash between the conservative pre-modern mind that is governed by a love of myth, and the progressive rational society that relishes change. Fundamentalists view the contemporary world with horror, rejecting its claims to truth, and a state of war now exists over the future of our culture. They are not terrorists, rather, they are innovative, existing in a symbiotic relationship with an aggressive modernity, each urging the other on to greater excess. The Battle for God is original in its thesis and in its understanding; as a history of religious ideas it is fascinating, and as an explanation of one of the most destabilizing forces at large in the world today it is extraordinary.

Case for God

Case for God

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: eBook Release Date: 22/09/2009

Moving from the Paleolithic age to the present, Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names, such as God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao. Focusing especially on Christianity but including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese spiritualities, Armstrong examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time, when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith. Why has God become unbelievable? Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?Answering these questions with the same depth of knowledge and profound insight that have marked all her acclaimed books, Armstrong makes clear how the changing face of the world has necessarily changed the importance of religion at both the societal and the individual level. And she makes a powerful, convincing argument for drawing on the insights of the past in order to build a faith that speaks to the needs of our dangerously polarized age. Yet she cautions us that religion was never supposed to provide answers that lie within the competence of human reason; that, she says, is the role of logos. The task of religion is ';to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there are no easy explanations.' She emphasizes, too, that religion will not work automatically. It is, she says, a practical discipline: its insights are derived not from abstract speculation but from ';dedicated intellectual endeavor' and a ';compassionate lifestyle that enables us to break out of the prism of selfhood.'From the Hardcover edition.

Great Transformation

Great Transformation

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: eBook Release Date: 29/01/2008

In the ninth century BCE, the peoples of four distinct regions of the civilized world created the religious and philosophical traditions that have continued to nourish humanity to the present day: Confucianism and Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, monotheism in Israel, and philosophical rationalism in Greece. Later generations further developed these initial insights, but we have never grown beyond them. Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, for example, were all secondary flowerings of the original Israelite vision. Now, in The Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong reveals how the sages of this pivotal Axial Age can speak clearly and helpfully to the violence and desperation that we experience in our own times. Armstrong traces the development of the Axial Age chronologically, examining the contributions of such figures as the Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the mystics of the Upanishads, Mencius, and Euripides. All of the Axial Age faiths began in principled and visceral recoil from the unprecedented violence of their time. Despite some differences of emphasis, there was a remarkable consensus in their call for an abandonment of selfishness and a spirituality of compassion. With regard to dealing with fear, despair, hatred, rage, and violence, the Axial sages gave their people and give us, Armstrong says, two important pieces of advice: first there must be personal responsibility and self-criticism, and it must be followed by practical, effective action. In her introduction and concluding chapter, Armstrong urges us to consider how these spiritualities challenge the way we are religious today. In our various institutions, we sometimes seem to be attempting to create exactly the kind of religion that Axial sages and prophets had hoped to eliminate. We often equate faith with doctrinal conformity, but the traditions of the Axial Age were not about dogma. All insisted on the primacy of compassion even in the midst of suffering. In each Axial Age case, a disciplined revulsion from violence and hatred proved to be the major catalyst of spiritual change.From the Hardcover edition.

The Great Transformation The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah

The Great Transformation The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 08/03/2007

The centuries between 800 and 300 BC saw an explosion of new religious concepts. Their emergence is second only to man's harnessing of fire in fundamentally transforming our understanding of what it is to be human. But why did Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jeremiah, Lao Tzu and others all emerge in this five-hundred-year span? And why do they have such similar ideas about humanity?In The Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong examines this phenomenal period and the connections between this disparate group of philosophers, mystics and theologians.

Muhammad Prophet for Our Time

Muhammad Prophet for Our Time

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 05/03/2007

From the bestselling writer of `The History of God' and the widely acclaimed `Islam - A Short History' comes Karen Armstrong's `Muhammad'. Karen Armstrong has become one of our most important and relevant commentators on religious world affairs today, consistently providing a scholarly but accessible approach to humanity's relationships with God and religion. To date, there have been very few books written on the Islamic prophet of the religion that is followed by over the 1.2 billion Muslims who make up a fifth of the world's population. Muhammad's staggering achievements as a human being quite simply altered the course of history as we know it and continue to this day to inspire humanity. Muslims claim that in 650 AD, at the age of forty, Muhammad had a visitation from the Angel Gabriel telling him that he had been chosen to learn, recite and spread the words of God to man in verses that would later make up the Qu'ran. He slowly developed into a prophet, preaching monotheism to the masses. He was initially mocked and rejected by many and risked numerous assassination attempts throughout his life. At a critical time, he also made the revolutionary decision to break all ties with his Muslim tribe thereby proclaiming that the bonds of Islam took precedence over anything else. The Islamic empire thus expanded into Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, North Africa and Spain. Karen Armstrong has written a fascinating account of this figure whose life and influence has determined the course of the spiritual life of human kind.

Short History of Myth

Short History of Myth

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: eBook Release Date: 21/10/2005

What are myths? How have they evolved? And why do we still so desperately need them?The history of myth is the history of humanity; our stories and beliefs, our curiosity and attempts to understand the world, link us to our ancestors and each other. Myths help us make sense of the universe. Armstrong takes us from the Palaeolithic period and the myths of the hunters right up to the Great Western Transformation of the last five hundred years and the discrediting of myth by science.Heralding a major series of retellings of international myths by authors from around the world, Armstrong's characteristically insightful and eloquent book serves as a brilliant and thought-provoking introduction to myth in the broadest senseand why we dismiss it only at our peril.Witty, informative and contemplative: Ms. Armstrong can simplify complex ideas, but she is never simplistic. New York Times Book ReviewArmstrong writes with sensitivity and wisdom. She employs a breadth of learning that reflects the scintillating, shifting light and shade of human experience. The Times

The Spiral Staircase

The Spiral Staircase

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 03/01/2005

A raw, intensely personal memoir of spiritual exploration from one of the world's great commentators on religion. After seven years in a convent, which she left, dismayed by its restrictions, an experience recounted in `Through the Narrow Gate', Karen Armstrong struggled to establish herself in a new way of life, and became entrapped in a downward spiral, haunted by despair, anorexia and suicidal feelings. Despite her departure from the convent she remained within the Catholic Church until the God she believed in 'died on me', and she entered a `wild and Godless period of crazy parties and numerous lovers'. Her attempts to reach happiness and carve out a career failed repeatedly, in spectacular fashion. She began writing her bestseller `A History of God' in a spirit of scepticism, but through studying other religious traditions she found a very different kind of faith which drew from Christianity, Judaism and Islam and, eventually, spiritual and personal calm. In her own words, her `story is a graphic illustration - almost an allegory - of a widespread dilemma. It is emblematic of a more general flight from institutional religion and a groping towards a form of faith that has not yet been fully articulated but which is nevertheless in the process of declaring itself'. Her lifelong inability to pray and to conform to traditional structures of worship is shared by the many who are leaving the established churches but who desire intensely a spiritual aspect to their lives. `The Spiral Staircase' grapples with the issue of how we can be religious in the contemporary world, and the place and possibility of belief in the 21st-century.

Remembering Karelia A Family's Story of Displacement during and after the Finnish Wars

Remembering Karelia A Family's Story of Displacement during and after the Finnish Wars

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Hardback Release Date: 29/01/2004

In June 1944, after two wars with the Soviet Union, the Finnish region of Karelia was ceded to the Soviet Union. As a result, the Finnish population of Karelia, nearly 11% of the Finnish population, was moved across the new border. The war years, the loss of territory, the resettlement of the Karelian population, and the reparations that had to be paid to the Allied Forces, were experiences shared by most people living in Finland between 1939 and the late 1950s. Using a family's memoirs, the author shows how these traumatic events affected people in all spheres of their lives and also how they coped physically and emotionally.

Daughters of Abraham Feminist Thought in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Daughters of Abraham Feminist Thought in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 30/09/2002

Important for a general audience interested in women and religion, this book should be especially valuable to scholars in the fields of feminist theology, comparative religion and interfaith studies. Based on the premise that women's struggles to have their voices heard are shared throughout the monotheisms, these essays offer new insights into the traditions of three religions during the past century. Six scholars engage in dialogue with their own faith communities, reflecting on their scripture and theology in order to understand the process by which women have been constrained within the patriarchal teachings of the religion. Looking at texts long utilized to keep women within boundaries, they open up the scriptures and traditions to a feminist interpretation of the historical teachings of their faiths.

Lives: Buddha

Lives: Buddha

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 07/03/2002

Buddhism is a faith that commands over 100 million followers throughout the world. Buddha stands with Christ, Confucius and Mohammed as someone who revolutionized the religious ideas of his time to advocate a new way of living. All that is known about Buddha comes from a collection of ancient writings that fuse history, biography and myth. Karen Armstrong distils from these the key events of Buddha's life: his birth as Siddhartha Gotama in the fifth century BC and his abandonment of his wife and son; his attainment of enlightenment under the Banyan tree (the moment he became a buddha, or enlightened one; his political influence; the divisions among his followers; and his serene death. Armstrong also introduces the key tenets of Buddhism: she explains the doctrine of anatta (no-soul) and the concepts of kamma (actions), samsara (keeping going), dhamma (a law or teaching that reflects the fundamental principles of existence) and the idealised state of nibbana (literally the 'cooling of the ego'). Since it promotes no personal god, Buddhism, writes Armstrong, 'is essentially a psychological faith'. In our own age of secular anxiety, she shows that it has profound lessons to teach about selflessness and the simple life. Karen Armstrong's short book is a magnificent introduction to the life and thought of this most influential of spiritual thinkers.

Islam

Islam

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 03/12/2001

One of the world's foremost commentators on religious affairs on the history (and destiny) of the world's most misunderstood religion. In the public mind, Islam is a religion of extremes: it is the world's fastest growing faith; more than three-quarters of the world's refugees are Islamic; it has produced government by authoritarian monarchies in Saudi Arabia and ultra-republicans in Iran. Whether we are reading about civil war in Algeria or Afghanistan, the struggle for the soul of Turkey, or political turmoil in Pakistan or Malaysia, the Islamic context permeates all these situations. Karen Armstrong's elegant and concise book traces how Islam grew from the other religions of the book, Judaism and Christianity; introduces us to the character of Muhammed; and demonstrates that for much of its history, the religion has been a force for enlightenment that promoted liberties for women and allowed the arts and sciences to flourish. ISLAM shows how this progressive legacy is today often set aside as the faith struggles to come to terms with the economic and political weakness of most of its believers and with the forces of modernity itself.

Muhammad Biography of the Prophet

Muhammad Biography of the Prophet

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 03/12/2001

A life of the prophet Muhammad by bestselling religious writer Karen Armstrong. Most people in the West know very little about the prophet Muhammad. The acclaimed religious writer Karen Armstrong has written a biography which will give us a more accurate and profound understanding of Islam and the people who adhere to it so strongly. Muhammad also offers challenging comparisons with the two religions most closely related to it - Judaism and Christianity.

The Battle for God Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

The Battle for God Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 02/04/2001

Britain's greatest religious historian chronicles the rise and rise of fundamentalism. One of the most potent forces bedevilling the modern world is religious extremism, and the need to understand it has never been greater. Focusing in detail on Protestant fundamentalism in the United States, Jewish fundamentalism from sixteenth century Spain onwards and Muslim fundamentalism over the last four hundred years, Armstrong examines the patterns that underlie fundamentalism. These evolve from the clash between the conservative pre-modern mind that is governed by a love of myth, and the progressive rational society that relishes change. Fundamentalists view the contemporary world with horror, rejecting its claims to truth, and a state of war now exists over the future of our culture. They are not terrorists, rather, they are innovative, existing in a symbiotic relationship with an aggressive modernity, each urging the other on to greater excess. The Battle for God is original in its thesis and in its understanding; as a history of religious ideas it is fascinating, and as an explanation of one of the most destabilizing forces at large in the world today it is extraordinary.

The Changing Face of God

The Changing Face of God

Author: Karen Armstrong, Frederick W. Schmidt Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 15/06/2000

Five leading scholars and writers explore why our understandings about God make a world of difference. Contibutors include Karen Armstrong, Marcus Borg, James Cone, Jack Miles, and Andrew Sung Park. Book and companion videos are excellent for parish study

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to The Hebrews

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to The Hebrews

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 31/10/1999

Hebrews marks a parting of the ways for Jews and Christians of the first century. It makes a case for the superiority of the new Christian 'faith' over old Hebrew orthodoxy and draws on the Old Testament for precedents for Jesus's ministry and to paint a picture of Jesus.

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