Who is Karen Armstrong?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Karen Armstrong was born on 14 November 1944 in England to parents of Irish heritage. She is a former nun in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus who has been publishing books on religion and her personal experiences with the church since the early 1980's. She has published books on Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism. Because of the readability of her texts, some scholars and literary critics credit her with bringing books on religious studies to the common reader. In 2004, she published The Spiral Staircase, which chronicles her experiences as a young women with undiagnosed epilepsy.

The order of the Society of the Holy Child of Jesus is a teaching order. Once Armstrong graduated through certain levels within the order, she was sent to Oxford University to continue her studies. She studied English at Oxford’s St. Anne’s College. It was during her time at Oxford that Karen Armstrong left the order of the Holy Child of Jesus. After finishing her degree at St. Anne’s, she went on to work toward a D.Phil. on Tennyson. She pursued this degree at Oxford as well. After her thesis was rejected by an examiner, she left Oxford without completing her doctoral degree.


Karen Armstrong upset many Catholics when she published Through the Narrow Gate in 1982. The book chronicles her experience as a nun. It discusses the kind of restriction that she felt was pressed upon her during her time in the order. As per the title of the text, Armstrong felt that she had to lead a very narrow life when she was a nun. She has spoken her mind throughout her career as an academic and a writer. In fact, she believes that fundamentalist religion is caused by modern culture. Her work with the theory has helped to bring it to the public eye. In addition to working as a book author, Karen Armstrong also works as a journalist. She has published a number of articles in The Guardian. She has also worked with BBC radio.

In addition to the texts noted above, Karen Armstrong has published: The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006), Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time (2006), A Short History of Myth (2005), Faith After September 11th (2002), Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2000), Buddha (2000), Islam: A Short History (2000), In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis (1996), Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths (1996), A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (1993), The End of Silence: Women and the Priesthood (1993), The English Mystics of the Fourteenth Century (1991), Muhammad: a Biography of the Prophet (1991), Holy War (1988), The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West (1986), Tongues of Fire: An Anthology of Religious and Poetic Experience (1985), Beginning the World (1983), and The First Christian: Saint Paul's Impact on Christianity. (1983)


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