The Spiral Staircase

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9780007122288: The Spiral Staircase

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 downwards 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 twenty-first century.

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"I have decided to try again", Karen Armstrong writes at the beginning of The Spiral Staircase, in explaining why she is telling her life story for a second time, 20 years after doing so in Beginning the World. "We should probably all pause to confront our past from time to time, because it changes its meaning as our circumstances alter." That's a clue to the sort of open-minded and intensive inquiry that Armstrong is capable of, which has made her, in those 20 years, a bestselling theologian and historian of religion, known for such hugely popular books as The Battle for God, A History of God, and Islam: A Short History.

In the lucid yet reflective manner that is Armstrong's trademark, The Spiral Staircase recalls her painful early life as a nun, her even more painful reentry into secular society, and most compellingly, the long-undiagnosed epilepsy that made her life a horror show of phantom visions and misplaced hours. We follow Armstrong to the Middle East and elsewhere as she searches for answers to questions no less daunting than the significance of faith. Yet what drives Armstrong is her distaste for and distrust of those who see only black or white, never shades of grey. "I disliked the crusading certainty of Ayatollah Khomeini, yet I was also disturbed by the shrill rhetoric of some of Rushdie's champions", she writes in the wake of debate over Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses and the ensuing fatwa issued by the extremists on the Islamic right. Indeed, as religious dogma divides the world in ever new ways, Armstrong's learned views are especially resonant. But The Spiral Staircase, its name inspired by TS Eliot's poem cycle Ash-Wednesday, is not a polemic, despite Armstrong's forceful and persuasive arguments for religious tolerance. Rather, it's a beautiful letter sent by a gifted writer attempting to decode the meaning of her life. --Kim Hughes,


‘The book deserves many readers… Karen Armstrong must be a Woman of Iron to have survived, made a career and a life.' Hilary Mantel

Praise for The Battle for God:
‘The quality of this remarkable book lies as much in its detail as in its sweeping vision’
Daily Telegraph

‘Armstrong displays all her usual talents: she has an eye for colourful evidence, a wonderful gift for clarity of exposition and an unerring sense of pace and voice and narrative.’
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Literary Review

Praise for The History for God:
‘Only those who think they know it all will fail to be fascinated by Armstrong's search for God.' The Economist

'Highly readable and ought to be read….Karen Armstong has read widely, has missed nothing, and gives us as solid a purview of the God of the past as it would be possible to find in a book,' Anthony Burgess, Observer

'Karen Armstrong is a genius.' A. N. Wilson

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Armstrong, Karen
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (2004)
ISBN 10: 0007122284 ISBN 13: 9780007122288
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1

Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0007122284

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