Karen Armstrong has dedicated herself to the freedom of religion and conscience. She has become a significant voice, seeking mutual understanding in times of turbulence, confrontation and violence among religious groups. Through her teachings and writings she has made Christianity, Judaism and Islam more accessible for all audiences.
Karen Armstrongwas born in Wildmoor, England, in 1944 into a family of Irish roots. When still a teenager she became a nun at the teaching order of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, staying there from 1962 to 1969. She studied at St. Anne’s College at Oxford University, graduating in English literature and moving on to teach literature at a girls’ school in Dulwich, London. In 1981 an illness led her to another change of career. Her autobiographical work, Through the Narrow Gate, established her in a new role as a public intellectual dealing with global religious issues.
The publicity following her autobiography and her successful TV debut led the BBC to invite her in 1983 to write and present a documentary on the life of St. Paul. The research concerning this topic made her reexamine the Christian faith, discover its Jewish roots, and connect the two. Preferring praxis over theory and theology, she has focused in her writing on the human experience and the response of world religions to human suffering. Her popular and timely books Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time, A History of God, and Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths have appealed to both secular and religious audiences thanks to Armstrong’s personal approach reaffirming the connections between the world’s religions and the ideal of mutual religious understanding.
Her publications made her a popular presence in the United States, where she became a key advisor on Bill Moyers’ popular PBS series on religion, and she has addressed members of the United States Congress on religious issues.Karen Armstrongwas one of three scholars to speak at the United Nation’s first session on religion. She also is a recipient of the 2008 TED Prize for her provocative and original thinking on the role of religion in the modern world.Karen Armstrongherself can be seen as a bridge that crosses religions, for she considers herself a “freelance monotheist”, drawing sustenance from all three of the faiths of Abraham, denying each one a monopoly of truth or superiority. She is also critical of modernity, as she does not adhere to the belief that religion is only a ‘reaction’ towards secular problems. Instead, Armstrong recognizes the importance of religion in the lives of people as a strong intuitive power.
The Freedom of Worship Award is awarded to Karen Armstrong for her personal dedication to the ideal that peace can be found in religious understanding, for her teachings on compassion, and her appreciation for the positive sources of spirituality.