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Karen Armstrong - Who is she? 
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Post Karen Armstrong - Who is she?
This thread is for biographical information on the author, Karen Armstrong. Please contribute anything you find about her.

Chris





Thu Dec 30, 2004 11:34 am
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Post Karen Armstrong - The Runaway Nun
Mary Rourke meets the author of "Islam, a short history"

Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2000

For years she was tagged the "runaway nun," the rebellious ex-Catholic with outspoken opinions about religion. Now, with her 12th book, "Islam, a Short History" (Modern Library), Karen Armstrong has changed her image. She can still be sharp-tongued, inclined to draw conclusions that get a rise out of critics. But something closer to reconciliation, rather than anger, is propelling her.

Her life in a British convent is 30 years behind her. She spent seven years in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus during the 1960s and later wrote a tell-all book, "Through the Narrow Gate" (St. Martin's Press, 1982) that bemoaned the restrictive life. (The frightened nuns did not know the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 had ended for several weeks; they were not allowed to inquire about the outside world.) Armstrong is still hearing about the book: "Catholics in England hate me. They've sent me excrement in the mail."

Readers who have followed her lately are learning her more optimistic ideas about what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common. Three of these books--"A History of God" (Ballantine, 1993), "Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths" (Knopf, 1996) and "The Battle for God" (Knopf, 2000)--show what unites the faiths. Each, Armstrong writes, has developed the image of one Supreme Being who was first revealed to the prophet Abraham. All have historic links to Jerusalem. And more recently, each has built up a rigid conservative strain as a reaction against the modern world.

Last year, the Islamic Center of Southern California honored Armstrong as a bridge builder who promotes understanding among the three faiths. On a book tour last week that included Los Angeles, the Londoner met again with members of the center in a Santa Monica home.



A small woman in her mid-50s with short blond hair and an eager expression Armstrong signed copies of her books while the 100 or so guests grazed a buffet table.

"Across the country," she began her brief talk, "night after night in bookstores, I saw in people's faces that they are interested in Islam. You might feel in despair as you are now a minority, living in the West, but people are very interested in learning more about you."

Earlier, she explained in an interview: "It is challenging for Muslims in the U.S. who for the first time are not living in a Muslim-governed state. A basic message of the Koran is to create a united community and share the wealth." When Western capitalism was introduced in the East in the last few decades, Iran and other Muslim countries rebelled. "The challenge for Muslims in the U.S. is to come to terms with the success of the secular West."

Part of the problem in integrating, she suggested, is that Muslims don't want to alienate anyone. "Muslims need to reach out to other faiths. They aren't as practiced as the Jews at it, who've lived in sometimes hostile countries for 2,000 years."

Other religious cultures have met similar challenges as immigrants in the U.S. "The Catholics did, late in the last century. They came from Ireland, Poland and Europe in huge numbers, and they were hated. Their arrival encouraged the rise of Protestant fundamentalism in the U.S. Now it is the Muslims who want to be good Americans."

Reviews of her new book, and of earlier works, tend to challenge Armstrong's sophistication. In the case of her new work, one reviewer argued she gave too little attention to the development of Islamic law, a central feature of a faith that blends religion and politics while Western democracies struggle to keep the two apart. Another reviewer said she overlooked Islam's contribution to science, art and economics.

"I never read reviews," Armstrong replied, defending herself in a cadence that an observer once timed at 130 words per minute. "Islam" presented the added challenge of telling it all in 222 pocket-book-size pages. "This impossibly brief history of Islam," was the publisher's idea, she said. "People too daunted by thick books will get a sense of things in this one."

Armstrong teaches Christianity at London's Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism. It was her first trip to Jerusalem in 1983 that piqued her interest in commonality among faiths. "I got back a sense of what faith is all about."

At the time she was an atheist who was "wearied" by religion and "worn out by years of struggle." Born a Roman Catholic in the countryside near Birmingham, England, in 1945, she gave up on religion after her time in the convent. "I was suicidal," she said of life in her late 20s. "I didn't know how to live apart from that regimented way of life."

With an undergraduate degree in literature from Oxford University, she began teaching 19th and 20th century literature at the University of London and worked on a PhD. Three years later, her dissertation was rejected. Without it, she did not qualify to teach at the university level and took a job as head of the English department at a girls' school in London. Not long afterward, she was diagnosed with epilepsy. "After six years at the school I was asked to leave, but nicely," she said. "My early life is a complete catastrophe. It all worked out for the best."

She left the school in 1982 and began working on television documentaries. The story that took her to Jerusalem set her on a new career path and changed her earlier impressions about God. She went from atheist to "freelance monotheist" but has never returned to the Catholic Church or joined any other.

Since her writing career took off, Armstrong's communion with God occurs in the library, where she spends up to three years researching her books, which are as densely packed with detail as her conversations. "I get my spirituality in study," she said. "The Jews say it happens, sometimes, studying the Torah."

It seems no one sacred scripture could satisfy her now. "It's inevitable that people turn to more than one religious tradition for inspiration," she said. "It's part of globalization." She recently read from the Buddhist canon of teachings for her next book. "Religion is like a raft," she said, explaining the Buddha's view of it. "Once you get across the river, moor the raft and go on. Don't lug it with you if you don't need it anymore." She knows that mode of travel: Leave one raft behind to pick up the next just ahead.

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Fri Dec 31, 2004 6:41 pm
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Post Re: Karen Armstrong - The Runaway Nun
Quote:
"Religion is like a raft," she said, explaining the Buddha's view of it. "Once you get across the river, moor the raft and go on. Don't lug it with you if you don't need it anymore."


Excellent quote! I like her from what I have read of her in this article. I respect anyone who gets "excrement in the mail" from Catholics!

Seriously...this lady seems to have run the gamut of spiritual exploration. From Catholic to athiest to "freelance monotheist". Seems to me a very experienced and searching life backs up her credentials!

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

HEY! Is that a ball in your court? - Mr. P

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




Fri Dec 31, 2004 6:54 pm
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Post Karen Armstrong, God, and Genesis
Karen Armstrong has been a steady foundation for my personal theological development and a ready source for shaping my knowledge of historical and doctrinal development.

My first introduction to her work was with A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism,Christianity and Islam Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994. Which served as an excellent supplement for my study of Hans Kung's mammoth texts regarding the Abrahamic Family of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Armstrong's journalistic flow, tempered by serious scholarship, made for a very accesible narrative spanning 4,000 years.

In this wonderfully engaging and insightful book she captured much of what I have, with much less elegance and astuteness, been trying to say in my posts here at Booktalk. This is how she conveys the flawed, but essential connection to social justice in the Abrahamic ecumene:

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"The God who may have inspired the first successful peasant's uprising in history is a God of social revolution. In all three faiths, he has inspired an idea of social justice, even though it has to be said that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have often failed to live up to this ideal and have transformed him into the God of the status quo." page 20


Or, in the way that I have struggled to express a commitment to seeking justice wherein all humans carry a sacred value and ultimate importance; a type of comunique from the God of shalom and agape:

Quote:
"Jews were not to think of God as a Big Brother, watching their every from above; instead they were to cultivate a sense of God within each human being so that our dealings with others became sacred encounters." page 78


Likewise, in the way that I have tried to explain Faith as a radical trust in the uncertain, incomplete, unfathomable and abysmal awesomeness of existence; she lifts the voices of Luther, Pascal, and Kierkegaard as imperfect minds struggling with their own flawed interpretations:

Quote:
"He [Luther] had anticipated the solutions of Pascal and Kierkegaard to the problem of faith. Faith did not mean assent to the propositions of a creed and it was not "belief" in orthodox opinion. Instead, faith was a leap in the dark toward a reality that had to be taken on trust." page 278


and, specifically regarding Pascal:

Quote:
"True, humanity cannot batter its way to the distant God by arguments and logic or by accepting the teaching of an institutional church. But by making the personal decision to surrender to God, the faithful feel themselves transformed, becoming "faithful, honest, humble, grateful, full of good works, a true friend." " page 299


And in her examination of the Enlightenment critique of Religion beginning with Spinoza, Diderot, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Darwin, and Freud- she links a key term of the discussion 'Repression' to the fanaticism of Fundamentalism, as well as unhealthy forms of Atheism:

Quote:
"Like sexuality, religion is a human need that affects life at every level...Repression of religion can bred fundamentalism, just as inadequate forms of theism can result in a rejection of God." page 362


Finally, she and I share a common hope regarding the lasting, integral, and wondrous beauty of Religion: when it finds itself springing from a place of loving compassion, toward justice and peace; as opposed to the resentiful hunger for punishment and chauvenistic exclucivism that so often mobilizes Fundamentalism towards its destructive deeds:

Quote:
"A sense of peace, serenity, and loving-kindness are the hallmarks of all true religious insight...Christian fundamentalists seem to have little regard for the loving compassion of Christ. They are swift to condemn the people they see as the "enemies of God....Most would consider Jews and Muslims destined for hellfire, and many have argued that all oriental religions are inspired by the devil...They are also denying a crucial monotheistic theme. Ever since the prophets of Israel reformed the old pagan cult of Yahweh, the God of monotheists had promoted the ideal of compassion." page 279, 280


For those interested in listening, or viewing Karen Armstrong, she was an excellent addition to the informative and entertaining PBS Series by Bill Moyers titled, "Genesis: A Living Conversation". Her erudite eloquence was a constant challenge to those Christian, Jewish, and Muslim members of the conversation unwilling to look plainly and ethically at the many troubling portraits of God's brutality and immorality in Genesis.









Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 1/1/05 11:58 pm



Sat Jan 01, 2005 11:15 pm
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Post Re: Karen Armstrong, God, and Genesis


Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 2/9/05 11:34 am



Wed Feb 09, 2005 11:34 am
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Post Re: Karen Armstrong, God, and Genesis





Wed Feb 09, 2005 12:35 pm
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Post Re: Karen Armstrong, God, and Genesis
An interview with Karen Armstrong





Wed Feb 09, 2005 12:39 pm
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Post Re: Karen Armstrong - Who is she?
Hi, I'm new to BookTalk, and this is my first post!

Here is an NPR Fresh Air interview with Karen Armstrong. It aired last year when her autobiography (about her years as a nun, her epilepsy, and how she became a religious scholar) was published.

Lori




Thu Mar 03, 2005 11:11 am
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Post Re: Karen Armstrong - Who is she?
A friend of mine claims she's basically an apologist for Islam. Not that she defends the faith or truth of the religion, but that she has a distorted view of its threat to civilization vis-a-vis Christianity. That is to say, she's not fair in her analysis when comparing the two religions. I will wait to read her myself before deciding if this is accurate.




Thu Oct 06, 2005 3:02 pm
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