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Book Report: Karen Armstrong’s A History of God (1993) detailed analysis of the author’s approach, use of sources, and balance between religions.

There exists an imperative union between the believing heart as well as the questioning, understanding mind regarding religions. That notwithstanding, in the examination of religious practices and spiritual beliefs, from Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism, there should be boundless respect for each. The paper is about the comparison and contrasting of religions and therefore to do that, one must have a very information-rich at their disposal. A critical look at the three books, namely Karen Armstrong’s A History of God (1993), The Battle for God (2000), or Faith after September 11th(2002), reveals that Karen Armstrong’s A History of God (1993) is the only book that meet such a requirement.

I chose A History of God, because it details the history of the three major monotheistic traditions or religions such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism as well as Hinduism and Buddhism. It also details the evolution of the idea of God which is traced from its ancient roots in the Middle East up to the present day. I also chose it because Karen Armstrong’s greatly meaningful investigation of how the three predominant monotheistic religions of the world namely Christianity, Islam and Judaism have molded and adjusted the origin of God can be regarded as a tour de force. This is because Armstrong, one of Britain’s chief reporters on religious issues, follows the historical backdrop of how men and women have seen and experienced God, from the Abraham’ time to the present. From traditional theory and medieval mystery to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the cutting edge time of skepticism, Armstrong plays out the close marvel of refining the scholarly history of monotheism into one convincing volume.

This book is useful in comparing and contrasting religions because it explores how pagan idol worship was transformed by Jews into monotheism as well as how Islam and Christianity rise from this foundation. Therefore, it is captivating to perceive how people have created and recreated different gods in their own image.

There is a delicacy in Armstrong’s approach; for instance, she exhibits a veritable scholarly compassion for the principles underlying the goals of any given spiritual community. She effectively explore each religion, for instance, she begins with the rise of the cult of Yahweh (Judaism) and then examines major Israelite prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel and Hosea as well as the contribution each prophet made to the Jewish concept of God. She then turns to stories regarding the life of Jesus and the rise of trinitarianism. She then examines the rise of Islam as well as its appreciation of the God’s nature. Armstrong delves deep into the religious frameworks and belief systems or ideologies, and endeavors to extricate from them the quintessence of the demonstration of faith that clarifies the ritual as well as the striving for salvation. Through her empathy and rigorous analysis, she was able to escape the biases or prejudices that certain individuals hold about this or that religion or spiritual tradition. This implies that she was fair in how they approached each religion and never gave some religions preference.

Armstrong demands that her readers consider every single religious reference important, that they treat facts or truths and beliefs or convictions with equal regard or respect, and dispose of any conceivable discrimination for the sake of lack of awareness, disdain or self-importance (arrogance). The undertaking is one of genuine examination of the beliefs of individuals, how the individuals’ beliefs are portrayed in actuality, and the solid ramifications or implications of such beliefs. Armstrong does this from inside, and without a doubt to such a degree, to the point that she persuades us regarding her responsiveness to the belief frameworks she portrays.

Starting with Abraham, the common wellspring, Armstrong outlines how the more individual, single divine force of Yahweh steadily obscured the primordial, polytheistic convictions of old Babylon. She then expertly follows the different prophetic methods of insight that sprang from the idea of god, some devoted to a normal reasoning while others are magical or mystical. Abraham’s balanced history shows how each new idea of the divine helps in sanitizing or distiling past convictions so as to match or fit the developing social conditions, from the meticulous orders of Sufism and Kabbalah to the exploratory progressions of the Islamic Falsafah as well as the turmoil or mayhem of the European Reformation. Armstrong who is a former nun tries to overcome this challenge with an unerring appreciation or respect for every single religious idea, regardless of how astonishing, however she is likewise unafraid to offer informed criticism.

In the meantime, Armstrong offers another point of view which is drawn from a totally diverse perspective. This approach is that of an outer, unexpected and basic or critical viewpoint demanding locating or finding scriptural beliefs, dogmas, sources and rituals within a verifiable setting. The fact of the matter is to consider the certainties, to talk about beliefs, to arrange them in time as well as place by submitting them to a basic or critical investigation of the historical backdrop of religions. Therefore, the trusting readers are now suddenly gone up against with a voluminous investigation of truth, of authentic confirmation and of experimental examination of the sacred writings, which are presently exhibited as the projections of people.  Armstrong has been able to redress the perilous drift towards religious absolutism and how basic knowledge advises that Truth belongs to no one exclusively.

The overall point of the book is that the hallmark of any successful religion is effectiveness and not historical or philosophical demonstration. In addition, the mystical experience of God has some features that are common to all faiths. The author perfectly makes her point because the book presents a basic union between the trusting heart and the scrutinizing, understanding personality because she effectively examines spiritual beliefs as well as religious practices from within and also demonstrates boundless respect for each of the religions. As stated above, there is a delicacy in author’s approach which is described as a genuine intellectual empathy for the principles underlying the aspirations of any spiritual community. Karen Armstrong manages all the diverse aspects of the monotheistic religions and the culturally diverse streams in every religion, as Greek philosophy influenced Judaism and Christianity, and the mystics happening reinforced or fortified ideas got from the Eastern religion of Buddhism.

The book has answered all my questions, so there are no other questions that I wanted answered. Unmistakably no single thought has assumed basic part in the advancement of present day civilization than the idea of god. Armstrong reveals the troubled history of a thought that has both inspired and divided us, and supports both our morals and ethics of empathy and four centuries of contention in available and marvelously informed prose. However, I only wished Armstrong would have been clearer regarding whether a position was her opinion or well-supported historically.

There were many sources provided, however, there were an equal number of sources for each faith. For instance, the quotations for the Christianity were taken from the Jerusalem bible while the quotations for the Islam were taken from the Message of the Qur’an. According to the book, there were an equal distribution of the quotations, for instance, the Christian God chapter had 57 quotations and the God of Islam chapter had 38 chapters. The chapter on the God of the mystics had 67 quotations.


A History of God is an exceptionally information- rich book handling the history of the three noteworthy Western religions, covering the advancement of philosophy and theology in Judaism, Christianity and Islam since the Abraham’ time. Any individual is liable to take in a considerable amount of information from A History of God, especially the ones who were taught in the United States where the historical backdrop of Islam and post-Christianity Judaism are unfortunately neglected.

The most concerning issue with this book or the negative thing with this book is that, tragically, it is not presented in a manner that makes it simple to read. Firstly, it is presented in a relentlessly uninterrupted prose coupled with complexity of the entwined history and the confounding yet fundamental torrent of names and dates. On the other hand, the book has chapter breaks between its 11 chapters as well as a couple paragraphs of rundown toward the end of every chapter. However, the prose receives the most decoration in terms of the infrequent indented quote. The book lacks timelines, section headings and has just a single diagram and locating specific information is very tiresome as one has to read through the entire chapter. The modest bunch of maps are located at the start of the book and afterward not referenced in the content which makes reading or perusing troublesome as one has to re-read  sections when their attention the first run through. The negative of the lacking section heading do not sound that huge but it has the effect of reorienting the reader, giving a break and rundown point in the content and giving a sense of organization is precious. Surprisingly better, given the fleeting way of a considerable measure of religious impacts, would have been a periodic course of events. Instead of a quick visual check, all that Armstrong offers are numeric years scattered through the thick sections. To make the book much better, the author could have given a little bit more attention to presentation.

Despite the lack of attention to presentation, the content, however, is interesting, and worth the effort. Armstrong unquestionably has a perspective, particularly an inclining towards a mystical as opposed to literal comprehension of God and a solid aversion of fundamentalism. It is evident that despite everything, she was including a reasonable scope of facts. For instance,

The mystical experience of God has certain characteristics that are common to all faiths. It is a subjective experience that involves an interior journey, not a perception of an objective fact outside the self; it is undertaken through the image-making part of the mind–often called the imagination–rather than through the more cerebral, logical faculty.”

Religion is characteristically subjective and it is generally best to read from numerous points of view, so I believe this kind of open predisposition than an affectation of unadulterated objectivity.

The earlier parts of the book seemed more intriguing than the later ones mostly since this book is the main complete clarification of the four-author theory of the Pentateuch. However the segment on the middle ages as well as the early Reformation period is likewise extremely fascinating and covers an area of religious history. The last section is, actually, to some degree not so much historical but rather more opinionated as Armstrong presents where she sees religion going and what should be done in reviving it. However, in the wake of reading the material paving the way to that part, her contention is fascinating and worth considering.

There is a great deal of good material here, yet it is not light reading and needs attention and focus and therefore, overall, I would recommend this book to someone unfortunately with reservations due to the presentation.

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