From the TTBOOK
IS RELIGION DANGEROUS?
Here to Listen
Karen Armstrong is
a one-woman publishing industry, the author of nearly 20 books on religion.
When her breakthrough book, A History of God, appeared in
1993, this British writer quickly became known as one of the worlds
leading historians of spiritual matters. Her work displays a wide-ranging
knowledge of religious traditions - from the monotheistic religions
to Buddhism. Whats most remarkable is how she carved out this
career for herself after rejecting a life in the church.
When she was 17, Armstrong became
a Catholic nun. She left the convent after seven years of torment. I
had failed to make a gift of myself to God, she wrote in her recent
memoir, The Spiral Staircase. While she despaired over never
managing to feel the presence of God, Armstrong also bristled at the
restrictive life imposed by the convent, which she described in her
first book, Through the Narrow Gate. By the time she left
in 1969, she had never heard of the Beatles or the Vietnam War, and
shed lost her faith in God.
Armstrong went on to work in British
television, where she become a well-known secular commentator on religion.
Then something strange happened. After a TV project fell apart, she
rediscovered religion while working on two books, A History of
God and a biography of Muhammad. Her study of sacred texts finally
gave her the appreciation of religion she had longed for - not religion
as a system of belief but as a gateway into the world of mystery and
the ineffable. Her book Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet
also made her one of Europes most prominent defenders of Islam.
Armstrong now calls herself a freelance monotheist.
Shes especially drawn to the mystical tradition, which - in her
view - has often been distorted by institutionalized religion. While
her books have made her enormously popular, it isnt surprising
that shes also managed to raise the ire of both Christian fundamentalists
and atheists. In her new book, The Great Transformation,
Armstrong writes about the religions that emerged during the Axial
Age, a phrase coined by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers. This
is the era when many great sages appeared, including the Buddha, Socrates,
Confucius, Jeremiah and the mystics of the Upanishads. In our interview,
Armstrong says all of these sages were reacting to the violence and
warfare that was prevalent at the time. Armstrong sees striking parallels
to our own violent world today.
Armstrong & Steve Paulson Interview
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