Posted: Thu May 04, 2006 5:09 am Post subject: Books and Activities by Karen Armstrong
Interview with historian Karen Armstrong
Calgary Herald Saturday April 8, 2006
the washington post NEW YORK
After she left the convent, Karen Armstrong called herself an atheist "I used to hate religion," she says. "I loathed it in my angry days."
Seventeen books later, she is recognized as one of the great religious histo rians, and she has reconsidered her label. She considers herself deeply religious but with no denomination. "Sometimes I call myself a freelance," she says in her melodious English accent. "I can't see any one of the great re ligions as superior to others.... I'm seeking to make sense of life, looking for its meaning and how we can have a better humanity."
Borrowing for the moment from Buddhism, she explains, "Nirvana is some thing within you. It is not an external reality. No god thunders down from the mountaintop. Just as the great mystics hi the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths all discovered, God is within the self. God is virtually inseparable from ourselves."
"Religion," she says, "is very compli cated. Some do it very well Some do it badly. It's an art form. Not everyone who plays the piano plays like Vladimir Ashkenazy."
Armstrong is sitting in a restaurant in Manhattan musing over her beliefs, her life, her work. Her new book, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (Knopf Canada, 496 pages, $39.95), is the second in a two-book deal, the first being The Spiral Staircase, her enthralling account of her Catholic upbringing and her falling away from the church after leaving the convent hi England .
Knopf, her publisher, is so confident of its success that it has printed 100,000 copies.
At 61, she is short and light-haired. Candid and self-assured, she has a pro nounced sense of humour about herself and her work. She is quick to admit that her own religious beliefs are a work in progress.
"When I write my books, I find out what I think of religion," she says. And it is in her study that she feels the most spiritual. "I do nothing but my work for days. That's when things start growing, when connections are made. It's what the Jews do when they study the Torah."
Her new book is about the Axial Age, from 900 to 200 BC, a time of ferment when four different philosophies took shape in four distinct cultures — Confucianism and Taoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, mono theism in the vicinity of Israel and philosophical rationalism in Greece. She describes the era as "one of the most seminal periods of intellectual, psychological, philosophical and religious change in recorded history," and when she talks about it, she makes it sound totally relevant to today's world.
"I was intrigued," says Armstrong, "with the similarities of the traditions that evolved even though the four cul tures didn't have much contact with each other. For one, they did not seek to impose their own views on others. For another, what mattered was not what you believed, but how you behaved.
"These guys worked hard at it," she says, "to find a solution to the spiritual and political ills of humanity. The Axial Age people seem to be talking to us."
The sages of today's Western world, Armstrong says, "have been scientists — people like Freud, Newton , Einstein, Bill Gates. They've done wonderful things for the world, cured many diseases. But all this has made the inner world difficult for us. It's made religion more problematic. We don't know where to stop. We've created weapons that can wipe out the world; we're destroying our environment. We can't seem to call a halt to it."
Armstrong said she gets a lot of hate mail from "secularists who hate religion and feel I shouldn't be defending this evil stuff. I have no friends in London who are religious at all," she says. "People ask me not to talk about it when I'm invited for dinner. My British publisher asked me when I was going to stop writ ing about it. They said it was a dead end. Europe is beginning to look en dearingly old-fashioned in its secularism," she says, "while the rest of the world is becoming niare religious.
"People are always astonished when I tell them how religious Americans are," she says. She is very admiring of American religiosity, except for the religious right. "Like most fundamentalists, they have a pernicious, horrible, paranoid view of the 'other,'" she says. "It used to be that the Soviet Union was the enemy described in the book of Revelation that would bring about the last days. Now, they've switched to Islam. They had to regroup. But you can't equate true religion with hatred."
She mentions the "Left Behind" series about the world ending. "It's a strange thing (in the United States ) that people have this view of the world. If these people went to a psychiatrist, they would be diagnosed with a psychological disorder. The fact that so many peo ple subscribe to this shows a profound unease, fear, a feeling of impotence, rage and pent-up fury."
"Here in America," she says, "reli gious people often prefer to be right rather than compassionate. They've lost the Axial Age vision of concern for everybody."
Even though Armstrong grew up Catholic, "JesuS was very uncomfort able for me.... He was always gazing at me reproachfully from a crown of thorns. I believed that I had done this to Him. He had died for me. It's a heavy trip for an eight-year-old." Even after she had decided to devote her life to Christ, when she prayed, nothing hap pened. "It was like the emperor has no clothes. But it's hard to admit that if you're a religious person and you're not getting it." Eventually, she left the Holy Child Sisters convent. She was 24.
Most of her friends who left got married right away. She never did. Nor has she ever had children. "It was not a conscious choice," she says wistfully. "I wasn't very appealing to men. It's not about what you look like."
For years she suffered from undiag-nosed epilepsy. When she had seizures, she thought they were religious hallucinations. After leaving the convent, "when I should have been mating," she says, "I had all those years of undiag- nosed epilepsy. I was locked in a de mon-infested world without tablets."
After so much suffering, does she be lieve in God?
"It's a mistake to define God," she says. "I gave it up a long time ago.... 'To define' literally means to set limits. That is a travesty to try to define a real ity that must go beyond our human thinking. The idea of a God overseeing all of this death and despair is untenable. That's the antithesis of God," she _says. "If you looked at the history of the 2Otb century, who is overseeing this? Elie Wiesel says that God died at Auschwitz. That's just one human idea of God as overseer, and it's a childish idea of God."
What works for her, she says, is to "al low the pain to break you open. Then you can begin your quest. Because that's when you can learn compassion. If you shield yourself from suffering as a lot of our society is set up to, then it's hard to relate to suffering in others. Once you discover what it is that gives you pain, then you must refuse under any circumstances to inflict that pain on others. It's quite easy to numb yourself instead of looking at it as a spiritual opportunity."
Because she had written a book about Islam, Armstrong found herself in great demand after the Sept. n, 2001, attacks, flying all over the United States to give lectures and interviews explaining Islam to Americans.
, "I always knew that Islam was not a violent religion," she says. "For 1,500 years Islam had a far better record of living peacefully than Christians. The point is to separate out the extremists we have in all of our monotheistic reli gions from the mainstream."
Stereotypes of Islam are dangerous, she said. The Holocaust, the slaughter in Bosnia — "all that killing is about deeply entrenched stereotypes."
Because of the parallels with the Axial Age, Armstrong believes the world may be at another religious turning point. "In every single case, the cat alyst of major religious change was re vulsion from warfare and aggression."
Her idea is to start anewtheology of power," based on the Golden Rule. "To understand that other people and other nations, however remote and alien, are in real terms as important as Washington ."
The United States is unique in the world, she says, the only superpower. "So what do you do? Do you start wars nobody can win? Al-Qaeda can't bring down the U.S., but the US . can't bring down al-Qaeda, either."
"Religion is hard. But then you begin to lose the hard edges of yourself and start to glimpse the other. All of the Axial Agers practised what the Chinese called jian ai or concern for everybody. Not just for your own group, but for everybody. And if we don't do that, I don't see how we can save our planet."
Last edited by kmaherali on Thu Jul 12, 2012 5:48 am, edited 1 time in total
In the ninth century BCE, the peoples of four distinct regions ot 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 both 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 he 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.
Islam preaches compassion, peace, love: Armstrong
Updated at 2000 PST Sunday, February 06, 2011
[Islam preaches compassion, peace, love: Armstrong]
KARACHI: Prominent scholar in religious matters and writer Karen Armstrong Sunday said that Islam preaches and promotes compassion, peace and love.
Armstrong, the internationally known scholar on religious matters, delivered a lecture with reference to her newly published book ‘Islam and Compassion’ which was attended by a large number of students, members of civil society and literary figures.
Speaking in the light of Quranic verses, Islamic incidents and history, Karen Armstrong said Islam promotes love, harmony, brotherhood and compassion.
Qura’an tells you how to inculcate a virtue of being able to listen to others and that even foes could be overcome with the power of your compassionate conduct.
On the occasion, well known businessman Amin Hashwani, presented a charter of passion.
Later, talking to Geo News, Karen Armstrong said the violent incidents taking place in Pakistan are blotting its name in the outside world. However, she added that during her visit to Pakistan she found the people as peace loving and friendly.
A Compassionate Life: Through the Eyes of a Participant
July 10, 2012. 9:28 am
By Shemine Gulamhusein
Over four Sundays starting in April this year, a group of individuals in Victoria BC from four distinct religious affiliations came together to discuss the idea of compassion, inspired by Karen Armstrong’s book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. As a participant in these conversations, I was struck by the sincere desire by participating members to want to learn to be more compassionate and to help others learn about different techniques and ways to show compassion. Most inspiring to me was that no matter the faith community one is located in, the values of compassion and caring for others are the same and shared in similar teachings. The following is a brief account of my experience while participating in the conversations.
Her new book, “Fields of Blood,” argues that religion doesn’t deserve much of the blame it receives for inciting violence throughout history. In The New York Times Book Review, James Fallows said the book was “packed with little insights and discoveries.” He wrote: “Armstrong demonstrates again and again that the great spasms of cruelty and killing through history have had little or no religious overlay.” In a recent email interview, Ms. Armstrong, who lives in England, discussed what inspired the book, her reaction to the events of 9/11, religion’s past and present relationship to politics and more. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation:
Islamist violence is "in part a product of Western disdain" — Interview with Karen Armstrong by Claudia Mende
Karen Armstrong, British scholar of comparative religion, finds that there is a long and inglorious tradition of distorting Islam in Europe. She criticises the notion that Islam is essentially more violent than Christianity and speaks about the genesis of Western disdain for the Arab world. Interview by Claudia Mende
Ms Armstrong, in an article for “The Guardian” you wrote that the barbaric violence of IS may be “at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain”. Would you write that again now, after the Paris attacks?
Weeks from the Charter for Compassion launch, Karen Armstrong looks at religion's role in the 21st century: Will its dogmas divide us? Or will it unite us for common good? She reviews the catalysts that can drive the world's faiths to rediscover the Golden Rule.
In a joint Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) and Georgetown faculty Distinguished Lecture, Karen Armstrong was invited to share her thoughts on "The Core of our Religious Traditions" on March 13, 2011. Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun who left a British convent to pursue a degree in modern literature at Oxford, a best-selling author, and UN Ambassador for the Alliance of Civilizations.
The world stands in dire need of compassion: Karen Armstrong
In all countries where the Charter of Compassion is being implemented, Pakistan is among the top ones.
This was disclosed by former nun Sister Karen Armstrong, the originator of the Charter of Compassion, while delivering a lecture titled, ‘The need for compassion in a fractured world’, at the Aga Khan University Medical College auditorium on Monday afternoon.
This is an excerpt from Karen Armstrong's presentation on What is Religion? from the Jesus Seminar (Westar Institute) Summer Institute in June 2006. For more information or to purchase the complete video, visit our website at www.westarinstitute.org or check out www.amazon.com.
WESTAR INSTITUTE -- A short excerpt from Karen Armstrong's 2006 presentation "What is Religion?" In it, she says "religion is not about belief, it's not about philosophy, it's not about metaphysics" and that we have made "religious life very difficult for ourselves by forcing people or making people feel they have to accept certain rather abstruse theological abstractions ...
Karen Armstrong's provocative views often challenge the perspectives of faith-based communities, although her teachings encourage an understanding of the commonalities between religions and their origins. She says: "all the worlds insist that there's something wrong with your spirituality if it doesn't lead you to practical compassion, to a profound respect for other people, seeing other people as sacredly inviolable and and unique. ...
Karen Armstrong, one of contemporary religion’s most prolific authors and an ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, speaks about the 'need for compassion in a fractured world' on September 24, 2018 at the Aga Khan University in Karachi. Her lecture was part of the University's Special Lecture Series that invites visionaries, entrepreneurs and pioneers to share their ideas and experiences with AKU students, faculty and the public.
Find out more about AKU’s Special Lecture Series: http://ow.ly/SbOE30g8stP
An interview with Dr Karen Armstrong: The Golden Rule and Religion
The.Ismaili brings you Sahil Badruddin’s interview with Karen Armstrong, an internationally acclaimed scholar and bestselling author of numerous books on religion. She won the 2008 TED Prize launching The Charter for Compassion, which has over two million signatories. She discussed her insights on compassion, the Golden Rule, nationalism, materialism, cosmopolitan ethics, religious literacy, the future of religion, perceptions of religious people, religious institutions, personal search, and her vision for the future.
2018, October 4: H.H. The Aga Khan introduced Karen Armstrong -- author and religious historian -- delivering the Global Centre for Pluralism's 2018 Annual Lecture at the new Aga Khan Centre in London at 7:00 PM London time. The event was live-webcast. Mowlana Hazar Imam was accompanied by Princess Zahra. The lecture was attended by many prominent persons such as Adrienne Clarkson ex-Governor General of Canada and member of the Board of the GCP. More to come.
PHOTO: Adrienne Clarkson, Karen Amstrong and Mowlana Hazar Imam in front seats
Karen Armstrong speaks on the need for compassion at the Ismaili Centre Dubai
At the inaugural Ismaili Centre International Lecture in Dubai, Dr Karen Armstrong called for increased compassion and harmony in an uncertain world.
Set within the architectural splendour of the Ismaili Centre Dubai, Dr Armstrong, religious historian and author, spoke about the Charter for Compassion, which she established in 2009. Founded with the support of TED Conferences and religious leaders globally, the charter has over two million signatures and brings to light the reason and urgency of practising compassion in a polarised world.
Opening the event on 22 September, His Excellency Sheikh Mohamed Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan commended Dr Armstrong, saying he could think of no other person “who has done more to explain Islam to the world, especially to people of other religions.” He further acknowledged the Ismaili community for bringing Dr Armstrong to the United Arab Emirates to speak at the Inaugural Ismaili Centre International Lecture.
Mr Amiruddin Thanawalla, President of the Ismaili Council for the UAE, expressed his honour in collaborating with the Ministry of Tolerance, “with whom we share a common mandate, to accept diversity and promote pluralism, tolerance, and understanding as core societal values.”
Dr Armstrong began her lecture by stating that “compassion is to feel with the other, endure with another, all day and every day,” and said that this was “a necessary practice required for our survival.”
An underlying premise amongst all major faiths, compassion is not only the beginning point on the journey to the divine, but the road to harmony amongst all people of the world, Dr Armstrong explained. “When we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world, get rid of our ego, and are ready to see the divine.” She further added that when we see the divine in others, we are able to live harmoniously with each other.
Dr Armstrong spoke about how Confucius first presented the concept of compassion in the fifth century BCE with the words ‘do not impose onto others what you do not want onto you.’ This concept was reiterated by the major prophets and religions, and subsequently became known as the golden rule. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) is believed to have said “none of you can be a believer unless you desire for your neighbour what you desire for yourself.”
The principles of the charter are being put into action in real-world scenarios. For example, the Charter for Compassion group in Pakistan has brought to life the principles of the Charter by enabling the employment of 630 individuals in the Sindh government who have been implementing compassionate practice into various business and social areas of society. Their latest project, entitled “Bridges” will see university students volunteering their time to empower street children with new skills, in the hope of returning equality to the community.
Members of the audience were inspired by Dr Armstrong’s remarks at the Ismaili Centre Dubai.
“Karen Armstrong expressed the view that we ought to be more compassionate, a view which is deeply grounded in the core teachings of all religions that can make us better and more compassionate people. She pulled her ideas from all her sources with deep respect. We felt truly inspired by her from a building that is also equally inspirational,” said Antigoni and Hari from the Consulate of Germany.
“The Charter for Compassion chimes perfectly with the sterling, practical work carried out by the AKDN throughout the developing world,” commented Bethan Alice Onions.
When asked what legacy she would like to leave behind, Dr Armstrong responded, “I would like to bring people of the world together.”
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