Karen Armstrong: Author, former nun and religious inspiration

Karen ArmstrongReligious tolerance embodied

Karen Armstrong (1944-) is the embodiment of religious tolerance and spiritual transformation. A former Roman Catholic Nun, she got disillusioned about religion.

A visit to Jerusalem rekindled her love for religion and she turned to writing books about the major world religions and their spiritual basis.

Her work on understanding fundamentalist religion popularizes the major insights about the subject amongst scientists.

Video about Compassion, yoga

Inspired by Christianity, Buddhism etc. About service to others globally.

About yoga as a spiritual discipline for the few that want to get rid of the ego. Yoga used to be for people who practiced ahimsa - non-violence.

Three reasons to admire Karen Armstrong

The Charter for Compassion

In 2008 Karen Armstrong received the TED prize for her groundbreaking work in studying and strengthening the connective tissues between religions. This $100,000.- was dedicated by her to the stimulating compassion. She created the Charter of Compassion as a way to help people and organisations to dedicate themselves to this because:

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Since signing a pledge can, on its own, be rather meaningless, she also wrote a book to help people develop compassion: Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. As usual for her books, it has very good reviews by readers.

Former Nun writing books about the world religions

Books about universal spirituality

Karen Armstrong became a Catholic Nun in her teenage years. Once formally a nun she was sent to college to study English. As an undergraduate she left the nunnery and tried to adapt to 'normal' life.

This was very difficult, partly because she had to deal with (at the time undiagnosed) epilepsy.

A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam

"All the great traditions are saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences." They each have in common, she says, an emphasis upon the overriding importance of compassion, as expressed by way of the Golden Rule: Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you.

Quotes on life, religion and spirituality

Compassion is not a popular virtue.
It's a great event to get outside and enjoy nature. I find it very exciting no matter how many times I see bald eagles.
And sometimes it's the very otherness of a stranger, someone who doesn't belong to our ethnic or ideological or religious group, an otherness that can repel us initially, but which can jerk us out of our habitual selfishness, and give us intonations of that sacred otherness, which is God.
I believe that what we have is now. The religions say you can experience eternity in this life, here and now, by getting those moments of ecstasy where time ceases to be a constraint. And you do it by the exercise of the Golden Rule and by compassion. And just endless speculation about the next world is depriving you of a great experience in this one.

Rewards and accolades

Despite the controversies around her work, Karen Armstrong has received various accolades:


Quotes on Religion in general

Now I think one of the reasons why religion developed in the way that it did over the centuries was precisely to curb this murderous bent that we have as human beings.
There are some forms of religion that are bad, just as there's bad cooking or bad art or bad sex, you have bad religion too.
Every fundamentalist movement I've studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is convinced at some gut, visceral level that secular liberal society wants to wipe out religion.
Religion is a search for transcendence. But transcendence isn't necessarily sited in an external god, which can be a very unspiritual, unreligious concept. The sages were all extremely concerned with transcendence, with going beyond the self and discovering a realm, a reality, that could not be defined in words. Buddhists talk about nirvana in very much the same terms as monotheists describe God.
It is, therefore, a mistake to regard myth as an inferior mode of thought, which can be cast aside when human beings have attained the age of reason. Mythology is not an early attempt at history, and does not claim that its tales are objective fact. Like a novel, an opera or a ballet, myth is make-believe; it is a game that transfigures our fragmented, tragic world, and helps us to glimpse new possibilities by asking 'what if?' - a question which has also provoked some of our most important discoveries in philosophy, science and technology.

What is God?

Abstract belief in God or finding it in yourself. Refers to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Quotes on Islam

Islam is a religion of success. Unlike Christianity, which has as its main image, in the west at least, a man dying in a devastating, disgraceful, helpless death.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, every single leading Muslim intellectual was in love with the west, and wanted their countries to look just like Britain and France.

Karen Armstrong articles and quotes