Is religion is to blame for most of the bloodshed throughout human history? Many would concur, but this is a view strongly countered by Karen Armstrong, one of the world’s leading thinkers on religion and spirituality. Armstrong is the former Catholic nun who abandoned her religious creed and has described herself as a ‘freelance monotheist’, while also taking inspiration from Buddhism. She has sold hundreds of thousands of books around the world and won huge audiences for her powerful oratory in which she challenges her listeners to reappraise their prejudices about religion. She has addressed the US Congress and Senate, and as a testament to her bridge-building abilities she has filled venues across the Muslim world, including Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Singapore, Egypt and Pakistan where up to 5000 have come out to hear her.
She has written over 16 books on faith and the major religions, studying what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common, and how our faiths have shaped world history and drive current events.
She came to the Intelligence Squared stage to talk about her forthcoming book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. Journeying from prehistoric times to the present, she contrasts medieval crusaders and modern-day jihadists with the pacifism of the Buddha and Jesus’ vision of a just and peaceful society. And she demonstrates that the underlying reasons – social, economic, political – for war and violence in our history have often had very little to do with religion. Instead, Armstrong celebrates the religious ideas and movements that have opposed war and aggression and promoted peace and reconciliation.