What is Religion?
Author: Karen Armstrong
From Westar Institute’s Summer Institute 2006.
Karen Armstrong observes that it sometimes seems that we are developing exactly the kind of religion that people such as the Buddha, Confucius, Laozi, Jesus and Muhammad wanted to get rid of. How, she asks, did the preoccupation with orthodoxy become so important in the Western Christian tradition? Confucian, Daoist, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Greek and monotheistic traditions were not much interested in metaphysics or theology, and each one of these faiths began in recoil from the violence of their time. They developed an ethic based on compassion and the Golden Rule, which they declared to be the essence of the spiritual quest. In a series of four, one and one-half hour classes, she looks in detail at the implications of this conviction to see what it has to say to us in our conflicted world.
Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous other books on religious affairs—including A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation—and two memoirs, Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. She has addressed members of the U.S. Congress on three occasions; lectured to policy makers at the U.S. State Department; participated in the World Economic Forum in New York, Jordan, and Davos; addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and New York; is increasingly invited to speak in Muslim countries; and is now an ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations. In February 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize. She lives in London.