Letters and Politics

Karen Armstrong on Religion and the History of Violence

Religious thinker Karen Armstrong has written more than 20 books on faith and the major religions, studying what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common, and how our faiths shaped world history and drive current events. Her most recent, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, just came out in paperback.

A former nun, Armstrong has written two books about this experience: Through the Narrow Gate, about her seven years in the convent, and The Spiral Staircase, about her subsequent spiritual awakening, when she developed her iconoclastic take on the major monotheistic religions — and on the strains of fundamentalism common to all.

About the book:

In these times of rising geopolitical chaos, the need for mutual understanding between cultures has never been more urgent. Religious differences are seen as fuel for violence and warfare. In these pages, one of our greatest writers on religion, Karen Armstrong, amasses a sweeping history of humankind to explore the perceived connection between war and the world’s great creeds—and to issue a passionate defense of the peaceful nature of faith.

With unprecedented scope, Armstrong looks at the whole history of each tradition—not only Christianity and Islam, but also Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Judaism. Religions, in their earliest days, endowed every aspect of life with meaning, and warfare became bound up with observances of the sacred. Modernity has ushered in an epoch of spectacular violence, although, as Armstrong shows, little of it can be ascribed directly to religion. Nevertheless, she shows us how and in what measure religions came to absorb modern belligerence—and what hope there might be for peace among believers of different faiths in our time.

  • gearbox123

    Listening to Karen Armstrong describe Islam’s history of “pluralism” and “tolerance” I fully expected her to start channeling Sean Penn’s character in Team America World Police and begin spouting about how Iraq “was a paradise with chocolate rivers and gumdrop trees” before evil Christians destroyed it. Read a history book, Karen. Islam was “tolerant” and “pluralist” for about 15 minutes after its founding, but since 622 AD it’s been blood, blood, blood.

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