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Laureation address – Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong FRSL
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters

Laureation by Professor Kristin De Troyer
School of Divinity
Wednesday 30 November 2011


Karen Armstrong

Chancellor, I have the very great honour to present the writer and theologian, Karen Armstrong, for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

In the Charter entitled “Charter for Compassion” which was produced under the guidance of Karen Armstrong, the following themes and words play a crucial role: justice, righteousness, and compassion. The Charter for Compassion has now been implemented by leading clergy and businessmen – realistically, practically and creatively – in the United States, Canada, the Middle East and Pakistan (the latter has become the leader of the Charter!). The three words, I think, also characterize Karen Armstrong. Indeed, in the world of religious and theological studies, Karen Armstrong has set out a course for justice, righteousness and compassion.

Among her many books, there is The History of God. With regard to The History of God, a scholar noted – “This is the most fascinating and learned survey of the biggest wild goose chase in history.” Indeed, reading the book is like being taken on a cruise throughout the texts of the Ancient Near East, the Jewish Bible, the Christian Tradition, Greek Philosophy, Islamic thought, Reformation, the world of mysticism, Enlightenment, and modern thought.

Over and over again, Karen shows her readers the beauty of these traditions, the contents of streams of thought and the impact and influence of texts on all our cultures. At the same time, she strongly invites the reader to ponder the most important enigmas and mysteries of life. Moreover, Karen has a gentle and polite way of saying things the way they are.

Karen Armstrong has not only lived the Judeo-Christian tradition, she also has respectfully engaged with other religions. Indeed, Karen Armstrong even received the Muslim Public Affairs Council Media Award. Karen Armstrong is a scholar who is respected by people from different religious backgrounds.

Time and again Karen reflects on the issue of the relevance of religion. She often asks the question why and how a particular religion with its Gods and Goddesses is shaped, created and desired by humans, each time demonstrating how religions can be involved in and affect so many conflicts. She ultimately asks the question: “How will the idea of God survive in the years to come?” She answers: “Human beings have always created a faith for themselves to cultivate their sense of the wonder and the ineffable significance of life.” This answer, like so many of her answers, is stimulating and rich. It invites everyone to reflect on the essence of life and how faith fits in (or not).

Given Karen Armstrong’s incredible writing and impact, it is no wonder that her book on the History of God was translated into more than 30 languages and reprinted I don’t know how many times. When The History of God was published, her publisher also produced books like: “The British Constitution Now” (this book was written by the famous Ferdinand Mount, Vice-Chairman of the Power Commission on Political Reform), “Catholics and Sex,” (written by the duo Kate Saunders and Peter Stanford), and “The Hollywood Story” (written by Joel Finler, the film critic who worked for the London Time Out magazine). But none of these books ever got the print-run that The History of God received. In other words, the Constitution, Sex and Catholics, and Hollywood could not compete with a book on the history of God. If there is someone who truly had impact on our field and way beyond, it is Karen Armstrong!

Her writing is not only challenging and critical it is also mystically poetical and ethically good. On the one hand, Karen Armstrong brings in her thinking the bonum, the pulchrum and the verum together and on the other hand, she profoundly contextualizes and relativises the unum into pluriformity. One needs to be a grand lady in order to do just that. And as these words characterize her work, they again characterize Karen Armstrong herself: indeed, she is a grand lady in religion and theology.

Chancellor, in recognition of her major contribution to the field of religious studies and theology I invite you to confer on Karen Armstrong the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

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