The Spiral Staircase

Have been listening to Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase. It’s a biography of her loss of faith and eventual reconnection to religion and spirituality, albeit in a different way. There are things to learn in these stories of “de-conversion.” She was hurt by the church and its inability to help her deal with her weaknesses. To be frank, she was (at least as she tells the story) hurt by her academic experiences, by failed medical diagnosis, and other personal and professional failures. Her persistence and professional success despite all this is admirable and can remind all of us that even multiple failures aren’t necessarily the end.

Nevertheless, her account has some weaknesses. She ends up reducing religion to orthopraxy and accepts as scholarly consensus a number of things I view as at least disputed. Interestingly, she did her academic work in literature, so it’s not surprising there are imbalances in her religious views. I don’t think you’ll learn much helpful about religion here (and based on this work, in her other works either). But she has become a widely known figure and it helps to have some kind of background knowledge of her thinking and life.

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