ICQ -- 2002/No. 1

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C H R O N I C L E

Karen Armstrong Talks Fundamentalism

"We chose Karen Armstrong as this year’s speaker long before September 11," says Howard Erlich, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences. "We were more interested in her as a thinker about spirituality and religiosity, which are becoming more obvious forces in our lives. But she turned out to be a timely choice. Ms. Armstrong is an important thinker and a crisp writer who helped give us some context about the events of September 11."

Karen Armstrong with studentsThis year’s distinguished speaker in the humanities, religious scholar and best-selling author Karen Armstrong, has been in great demand as a lecturer in the months since September 11, as people have struggled to understand what precipitated the terrorists’ actions. In a public lecture, which she called, after one of her books, "The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam," Armstrong examined the three major monotheistic faiths and explained her theory about the rise of fundamentalism within them. She believes that the advance of "modernity" --- or the progress of Western capitalism and democracies, with all their good points and bad --- predicated the recent swell in fundamentalism, which she thinks is based largely on its practitioners’ fear that religion might lose its place in daily life.

A self-proclaimed "freelance mono theist," Armstrong authored A History of God and Islam: A Short History, among other works. She spent seven years in her young adulthood as a Roman Catholic nun before traveling to Jerusalem in the early 1980s and becoming fascinated with Islam and Judaism. Her 13 heavily researched books reflect her interest in the three faiths, which she feels share many similarities despite their different histories.

During her stay at the College she also met with students in master classes and informal sessions. "She was very involved with students, and her lecture was energetic, clear, and substantive," says Erlich. "Despite being very tired from a whirlwind of speaking engagements since September 11, she was ‘on’ all the time when talking to students and the public. We couldn’t have been more pleased."


Photo by Charles Harrington

 

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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 5. Apr. 2002