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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

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: eBook Release Date: 28/12/2010

One of the most original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern worldauthor of such acclaimed books as A History of God, Islam, and Buddhanow gives us an impassioned and practical book that can help us make the world a more compassionate place.Karen Armstrong believes that while compassion is intrinsic in all human beings, each of us needs to work diligently to cultivate and expand our capacity for compassion. Here, in this straightforward, thoughtful, and thought-provoking book, she sets out a program that can lead us toward a more compassionate life.The twelve steps Armstrong suggests begin with Learn About Compassion and close with Love Your Enemies. In between, she takes up compassion for yourself, mindfulness, suffering, sympathetic joy, the limits of our knowledge of others, and concern for everybody. She suggests concrete ways of enhancing our compassion and putting it into action in our everyday lives, and provides, as well, a reading list to encourage us to hear one anothers narratives. Throughout, Armstrong makes clear that a compassionate life is not a matter of only heart or mind but a deliberate and often life-altering commingling of the two.From the Hardcover edition.

The Case for God

The Case for God

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.

Through the Narrow Gate

Through the Narrow Gate

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 28/11/2009

Through the Narrow Gate is Karen Armstrong's memoir of life inside a Catholic convent in the 1960's. With gentleness and honesty, Armstrong takes her readers on a revelatory journey that begins with her decision, at the age of seventeen, to devote her life to God as a nun. yet once she embarked upon her spiritual training, she encountered a frightening and oppressive world, fossilized by tradition, which moulded, isolated and pushed her to the limit of what she could endure.

The Battle for God

The Battle for God

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.

Islam

Islam

Author: Karen Armstrong Format: Hardback Release Date: 29/10/2009

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 Great Transformation

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.

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.

A History of Jerusalem

A History of Jerusalem

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

'A History of Jerusalem should be read, not only by travellers and potential travellers in Jerusalem, but by all of us.' Stephen Tummin, Daily Telegraph Jerusalem has probably cast more of a spell over the human imagination than any other city in the world. Held by believers to contain the site where Abraham offered up Isaac, the place of the crucifixion of Christ and the rock from which the prophet Muhammed ascended to heaven, Jerusalem has been celebrated and revered for centuries by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Such is the symbolic power of this ancient city that its future status poses a major obstacle to a comprehensive regional peace in the Middle East. In this comprehensive and elegantly written work, Karen Armstrong traces the turbulent history of the city from the prehistoric era to the present day.

Remembering Karelia

Remembering Karelia

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.

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

Muhammad

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

The Battle for God

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.

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