A raw, intensely personal memoir of spiritual exploration from one of the world’s great commentators on religion.
After seven years in a convent, which she left, dismayed by its restrictions, an experience recounted in ‘Through the Narrow Gate’, Karen Armstrong struggled to establish herself in a new way of life, and became entrapped in a downward spiral, haunted by despair, anorexia and suicidal feelings.
Despite her departure from the convent she remained within the Catholic Church until the God she believed in 'died on me', and she entered a ‘wild and Godless period of crazy parties and numerous lovers’. Her attempts to reach happiness and carve out a career failed repeatedly, in spectacular fashion. She began writing her bestseller ‘A History of God’ in a spirit of scepticism, but through studying other religious traditions she found a very different kind of faith which drew from Christianity, Judaism and Islam and, eventually, spiritual and personal calm.
In her own words, her ‘story is a graphic illustration – almost an allegory – of a widespread dilemma. It is emblematic of a more general flight from institutional religion and a groping towards a form of faith that has not yet been fully articulated but which is nevertheless in the process of declaring itself’. Her lifelong inability to pray and to conform to traditional structures of worship is shared by the many who are leaving the established churches but who desire intensely a spiritual aspect to their lives.
‘The Spiral Staircase’ grapples with the issue of how we can be religious in the contemporary world, and the place and possibility of belief in the 21st-century.
‘An exceptionally impressive autobiography…Karen Armstrong’s account of her spiralling journey provokes thought and inspires respect.’Daily Telegraph
‘The book deserves many readers…Karen Armstrong must be a woman of iron to have survived, made a career and a life.’ Hilary Mantel
‘Admirably lucid…she gives a more exact and vivid account of the pleasures of writing than any I have seen.’ Sunday Times
‘Unputdownable – absorbing, moving.’ Daily Mail
‘A subtle and funny memoir.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Armstrong manages to put into words something that most of us cannot express.’ New Statesman
About the author
Karen Armstrong spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun and now teaches at the Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism and the Training of Rabbis and Teachers. A regular reviewer for the Sunday Times, her books include ‘A History of God’, ‘Holy War’, ‘The Gospel According to Women’, ‘The Battle for God, Islam: A Short History’ and ‘Through the Narrow Gate’. Her work has been translated into forty languages. She is the author of three television documentaries. In 1999 she was awarded the Muslim Public Affairs Council Media Award. Since September 11, 2001 she has been a frequent contributor to conferences, panels, newspapers and periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic on the subject of Islam and fundamentalism. She lives in London.
In 1969, British writer Armstrong (The Battle for God, etc.) entered a Roman Catholic convent, smitten by the desire to"find God." She was 17 years old at the time--too young, she recognizes now, to have made such a momentous decision. Armstrong's 1981 memoir Through the Narrow Gate described her frustrating, lonely experience of cloistered life and her decision, at 24, to renounce her vows. In its sequel, Beginning the World (1983), she tried to explain her readjustment to the secular world--and failed."It is the worst book I have ever written," she declares in the preface to this new volume:"it was far too soon to write about those years";"it was not a truthful account";"I was...told to present myself in as positive and lively a light as possible." The true story, which she relates in this second sequel, was far more conflicted and intellectually vibrant. Her departure from the convent, she writes, actually made her quite sad; she was"constantly wracked by a very great regret" and suffering on top of it with the symptoms of undiagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy. How she emerged from such darkness to make a career as a writer whose books honor spiritual concerns while maintaining intellectual freedom and rigor--this is Armstrong's real concern, and the one that will be of most interest to the fans of her many acclaimed works.