A History of God by Karen Armstrong (PDF)



Ebook Info

  • Published: 2011
  • Number of pages:
  • Format: PDF
  • File Size: 7.23 MB
  • Authors: Karen Armstrong


The idea of a single devine being – God, Yahweh, Allah – has existed for over 4,000 years. But the history of God is also the history of human struggle. While Judaism, Islam and Christianity proclaim the goodness of God, organised religion has too often been the catalyst for violence and ineradicable prejudice. In this fascinating, extensive and original account of the evolution of belief, Karen Armstrong examines Western society’s unerring fidelity to this idea of One God and the many conflicting convictions it engenders. A controversial, extraordinary story of worship and war, A History of God confronts the most fundamental fact – or fiction – of our lives.

User’s Reviews

Reviews from Amazon users which were colected at the time this book was published on the website:

⭐Not sure if it’s appropriate but I received an older version of this, year of 1999 rather than 2004. But overall it’s in an acceptable condition.

⭐Ms Armstrong knows how to communicate the sweep and depth of civilization, identifying the major factors which shape actions by humans. Her chapter on Islam is a must read as it identifies cultural and social factors imbedded in the belief tradition. And she bold addresses the question, “Why God?” or why does the concept of a Supreme Being(s) evolve in a culture.The author’s Great Transformation is a good companion reading.

⭐This book was a very eye-opening read. I have to say that some of it was really over my head, but I moved through it and am ultimately glad that I stuck it out. If you’re looking for a slightly “lighter” read, this probably isn’t your book.

⭐Karen Armstrong gives a well thought out summary of the role that God plays in the various religions of the world. The reader is placed in a position to view his own concept of God and then he can compare this to the concept of God in the major religions of the world. Karen Armstrong does not favor one religion over another but instead discusses the concept of God from a historical point of view.

⭐This book really puts the history of the Abrahamic religions in context and gives them value which survives any skepticism towards their literal truth. Karen Armstrong’s History is so much richer and more subtle than Alain de Botton. Read also her autobiography The Spiral Staircase, and anything by Richard Holloway. I am a happy Catholic skeptic – that’s not an oxymoron.

⭐A very complex problem that might never be solved is presented in such a simple way that each reader will be able to find his/her way through a most enjoyable read.

⭐Very informative, I learned lot. Karen Armstrong does all the research for us and pulls it together in an understandable way. Opened my eyes.

⭐The points could have been made in 1/3 of text. Essentially: its Ok to believe if you are a mystic. It isn’t rational. Which is just fine bit goes on and on.

⭐This is a book that I think both atheists and believers (of any religious faith, but primarily the three Abrahamic faiths discussed in this book) can take a lot from. Armstrong traces the history of our conception and understanding of God from the very early days of proto-Jewish paganism, through the development of Jewish monotheism, the development of early Christianity and then Islam, then the influence (via the Islamic world) of ancient Greek philosophy, the rise and fall of mysticism, the upheaval of reformation, the impact of science and reason, and finally the challenge of atheism. Armstrong’s perspective is one of a neutral, academic observer, trying to understand and describe rather than take side in a debate. Her principal thesis, as I read it, is that ‘God’ has never been a fixed concept. It has undergone enormous change over the course of human history so that a Jew, Christian or Muslim today will have a very different understanding of God to that held by, say, Moses, Jesus or Mohammed.In describing these philosophical developments, Armstrong also sheds light on aspects of religion and theology that I imagine most people who are not graduate students in religion would be unaware of. As an atheist myself, I was struck by how much my understanding of religion and of God was shaped exclusively by the Western Christian tradition – the image of a bearded man in a toga sitting on a cloud. If I have understood Armstrong correctly, this is not an understanding of God that is shared by Jews, Muslims or even Eastern (Orthodox) Christians – and, although Armstrong is not so blunt in her terminology, the Western Christian God struck me as a very much diminished, rather facile concept. Other monotheistic traditions retain the idea that God is that which, by definition, cannot be comprehended or described. God is something transcendent and mystical (parallels are drawn with Buddhist thinking). Or God, in fact, has no objective existence – it is a subjective experience, different for each believer and meaningful only to them. At various times and places, God has even been imagined as having no physical existence as we understand it, or having no location; often, God has no consciousness or will – it was unaware of its own actions, unaware and uninterested in human affairs, and certainly not something to attempt to communicate with.Although not a central theme of the book, I also found fascinating the accounts of how religion, far from being inimical to science, has spent most of history promoting and encouraging scientific progress and research. Essentially, much pre-modern religious thought held that God itself could not be seen or understood, but you could get a glimpse of the effects of God by really understanding the natural and physical world. The obvious example here is the scientific focus of the Islamic world during what in Christendom were called the Dark Ages, but there are others – a smaller one was the observation that Calvinist schools were the first in America to put chemistry on the curriculum. (Not from Armstrong but from elsewhere I have read that a similar ethos in Hinduism drove progress in early Indian mathematics.) Again, the tension between ‘religion’ and the discoveries of, for example, Galileo and Darwin are largely confined to Western Christianity.The only area where Armstrong (understandably) drops her impartial outlook is in the modern rise of fundamentalism in all three faiths. She portrays this as a reaction to the various threats to religious faith in the modern world – faith in science and economics; individualism; the horror of the Holocaust; and, for Islam, the arrival of European colonial powers, contemptuous of their faith. The story of Islam is particularly interesting for someone (like me) who previously had no knowledge of it. I learned that Islam was founded as a reaction against the focus of local ruler on the accumulation of wealth, and the gross inequality that this created. I learned that Islam instructs its followers to build a just and fair world, and that the Islamic world has been, for much of history, a haven of tolerance, equality and scientific discovery. When the British and French arrived in the Middle East in the 1920s, they brought their crusading prejudice against Islam with them (bolstered by a heavy dose of racism) and set about suppressing the faith, thereby creating a perfect environment for a more aggressive, angry variant of it to flourish.I’ve no doubt that much of what Armstrong says, for all the thoroughness of her research, is highly contentious and one of the weaknesses of this book is that you get no sense of the areas of live academic debate. This is an extremely dense book, heavy-going to read. I imagine you will get a lot more from it if you are a student – at least at undergraduate level – in theology or some related field, and you have some familiarity with Jewish, Christian and Muslim scripture. Armstrong has the annoying habit of some other academic writers or assuming that every reader is highly educated and so she peppers her text with very specialised, often non-English-language terminology and she occasionally includes short quotations in French or Latin without translation. But these are minor quibbles about an epic and enlightening book that is very well worth the effort in reading.

⭐Deeply interesting book as are her others. I haven’t read them all but probably will eventually..I began to read her as my new book basically deals with humanity, exploring what the things are that make us human and of course religion is one of them and sometimes can also make us inhuman.Karen Armstrong, of course is as aware of the negative side of the the various beliefs as I am and while not signed up to any of the creeds on offer, understands the deep human yearnings which result in the creation of beliefs which are often completely illogical and even self- contradictory and self-defeating as well as sublime and fruitful.So is you find it hard to understand why religion has become such a powerful element in the conflicts of today read this book and her others.

⭐An interesting book, but as an atheist who’s interested in the history of God, I did find it annoying that the author writes on the subject as though God does exist, which undermines her objectivity.

⭐I cannot do justice to this book. It does what it says on the cover – chronicle the different stages of humanity’s ideas about God. It also gives a good analysis of each stage, so one can dip in and out to obtain a deeper knowledge. A very scholarly, fair and non-judgemental piece of work. It’s a book that I will never want to part with; to the extent that having read it on Kindle, I bought the hard cover copy.

⭐This is huge engine of analysis with many very interesting aspects to the history of the idea that most pople would not know of. Although it covers much of the damage that the idea of God has done throughout the centuries and it finishes on an open-minded stance, it is clearly on the side of the idea of God. I thought she was very helpful on the intellectual, philosophical aspects of the idea of God but her idea of mysticism was not really mine, too much coloured by Hebrew mind set. I thoughtr she had too much uncritical reverence for the ‘revelation’ side of Abrahamic religious history with little apprciation of the connection to the shamanistic, altered-state-of consciousness strand in all communal religious phenomena that can be traced back to the stone age and shows itself repeatedly in the religions of the twenty first century. Overall, i found it a mighty work which taught me a lot but I am looking forward to reading her ‘The Case for God’ where I expect to find a clearer exposition of her way of seeing things – which I suspect is not mine.


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