Karen Armstrong (14 November 1944)
Karen Armstrong is an author and writer on Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. She was born in Wildmoor, Worcestershire, England into a family with Irish roots who after her birth moved to Bromsgrove and later to Birmingham.
Armstrong chronicles her life from the time she was born until the time she left the religious order after becoming a nun in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, for 7 years beginning when she was only 17. During this period she received a leave of absence from her religious order to study at St Anne's College, Oxford University, where she read English, but left the order during her course of study.
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. She eventually left academia without completing her doctorate. This period was marked by ill-health (Armstrong's life-long, but at that time undiagnosed, epilepsy) and her readjustment to outside life. In 1976, she became an English teacher at a girls' school in Dulwich, but her epilepsy caused her to miss too many school days, and she was asked to leave in 1981."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."
Armstrong published Through the Narrow Gate in 1982, which described the restricted and narrow life she experienced in the convent (and earned her the enmity of many British Catholics).
In 1984 she was asked to write and present a documentary on the life of St. Paul which was shown on Britain's Channel Four Television. Her other television work has includedVarieties of Religious Experience(1984), in which she interviewed people of different faiths, Tongues of Fire (1985), in which she discussed religious poetry, and in 1996, the PBS series "Genesis: A Living Conversation," with Bill Moyers.
The research for the documentary made Armstrong look again at religion, despite having abandoned religious worship after she left the convent. She has since become a prolific, acclaimed, and controversial writer on subjects touching on all of the three major monotheistic religions. In 1999, the Islamic Center of Southern California honored Armstrong, for "promoting understanding among faiths."
Armstrong is a prolific scholar of religions and she has written on a multitude of faiths. She described her beliefs in a C-Span interview in 2000: I usually describe myself, perhaps flippantly, as a freelance monotheist. I draw sustenance from all three of the faiths of Abraham. I can't see any one of them as having the monopoly of truth, any one of them as superior to any of the others. Each has its own particular genius and each its own particular pitfalls and Achilles' heels. But recently, I've just written a short life [story] of the Buddha, and I've been enthralled by what he has to say about spirituality, about the ultimate, about compassion and about the necessary loss of ego before you can encounter the divine. And all the great traditions are, in my view, saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences.
Through the Narrow Gate (1981), Beginning the World (1983), The First Christian: Saint Paul's Impact on Christianity (1983), Tongues of Fire: An Anthology of Religious and Poetic Experience (1985), The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West (1986), Holy War (1988), Muhammad: A Western Attempt to Understand Islam (1991), The English Mystics of the Fourteenth Century (1991), A History of God: From Abraham to the Present, the 4000 Year Quest for God (1993), The End of Silence: Women and the Priesthood (1993), In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis (1996), Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths (1996), The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2000), Buddha (2000),Islam: A Short History (2000), Faith After September 11th (2002), The Spiral Staircase (2004), A Short History of Myth (2005), The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah (2006).