A History of God

Version: Abridged
Author: Karen Armstrong
Narrator: Karen Armstrong
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Religious Studies
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Published In: March 2004
# of Units: 5 CDs
Length: 6 hours
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Strange as it may seem, the idea of 'God' developed in a market economy in a spirit of aggressive capitalism," Karen Armstrong asserts in her fascinating work A History of God. Armstrong considers herself a "historian of ideas," and with this broad view she gives a compelling account of the correspondences among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the historical, philosophical, intellectual, and social developments through the ages that both shaped them and were shaped by them.

Religion is "highly pragmatic," Armstrong finds. Any particular idea of God must work for the people who develop it. Consequently, as the times have changed, so have our ideas about God. "Understanding the ever-changing ideas of God in the past and their relevance and usefulness in their time," she says, "will help us to develop a new concept for the future."

Today an increasing number of people have difficulty with the idea of a God that behaves as a larger version of themselves. Armstrong sees this as inevitable, and welcomes believers to a notion of God that "works for us in the empirical age.

Reviews (10)

History of God

Written by Anonymous from Los Lunas, NM on March 7th, 2009

  • Book Rating: 3/5

I had trouble keeping my attention on this one. When I listened it was interesting enough but it never really grabbed my attention enough to finish listening.

Might Make You Angry

Written by Sabai from Plainfield, IL on June 20th, 2008

  • Book Rating: 2/5

A well-researched book regarding the evolution of monotheistic religion within the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. However, the author often jumps to bad conclusions about faith in general because of how religion changes over time. As a theist, I found myself getting angry with Armstrong's logic. But, I also learned quite a few things as well.

History of God

Written by Anonymous on September 26th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 4/5

This book was well researched and written. It is pretty dense, and I had to listen to it twice to get out of it all that it deserved. It gives a very good overview of the development of religion in the western hemisphere, and gives an indication of where it may go from here. It helped me build insight into some of the conflicts between several religions which have grown from the same source.

History of God

Written by Varin Acevedo from San Diego, CA on August 26th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 4/5

I appreciated the scholarly, curatorial approach to the History of God. It answered a lot of questions. This is not a light and fluffy book- it has to be listened to... but sometimes it is nice to have a meal instead of a dessert.

Great intro, but not too deep.

Written by Rich from Springfield, VA on July 20th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 3/5

I remember when A History of God came out and the glowing Washington Post review sent swarms of readers into my little bookstore to gobble it up. Once we finally got more in, I, too, became engrossed in Karen Armstrong's excellent writing as she spun the web of Abraham's children, and their role in the world today (well, 1992 anyway). Fortunately, the ten years between its publishing and now is inconsequential in 4000-year saga, and the work is so well researched that it holds up very well today. My only disappointment is that the middle-age geo-political effects of the divide, which led to the separation of the industrial west from the traditional east, is not studied in more depth (although she attempts to visit the topic with limited success in her later works). Ironically, Armstrong's conclusions were radical and controversial in the early 90's, and widely (though not universally) accepted now, making this a far less racy book than it once was.

More Accurate Title: The Philosophies of God

Written by Deneb on May 16th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 2/5

This book is less a history book and more an enumerated collection of the philosophies of the nature of God. The biographies of hundreds of people, instrumental in shaping three major religions, are effectively abbreviated to mere footnotes as their names and theological contributions are mentioned in rapid succession. The book would have benefited from greater focus on fewer individuals, enabling further exploration into their backgrounds and the times in which they lived.

History of western god ?

Written by Anonymous on February 11th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 2/5

Very boring. The title should have been 'History of Christianity'...not history of god.

The History of God

Written by Anonymous from Nashville, TN on January 26th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 2/5

This audio book was a little tough. It felt a lot like a college lecture. I often felt like i needed to stop the audio and make notes in case one of the countless names of philosophers/clerics/mystics that were mentioned might be on the exam at the end of the final disc. Probably a great book if you intend more than a casual interest in the Mysticism of the Golden age of Islam. But for the casual reader it was a bit much.

History of God

Written by William Lau on January 13th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 1/5

This book gets one star because it follows the history of the development of the three religions pretty well. It doesn’t get anything over that due to its ever present Politically Correct agenda. Armstrong was ahead of her time (in 1994) in declaring the compassion of Islam. So, the murderous Dervish cult is praised for their sublime dance; and, somehow, 10th Century developments in Iran and the overthrow of the Shah a 1000 years later are related. The God of the Old Testament is vengeful but Islamic injunctions to kill infidels are ignored or a hangover from tribal custom. Islamic fundamentalism does take its lumps and is almost as bad as Christian fundamentalism in the US. Both are apparently equally capable of causing trouble. There are those who will appreciate this perspective. Others beware.

Great Review of the Major Religions of the World (must listen CD)

Written by Anonymous from HOUSTON, TX on October 21st, 2004

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Unbiased review of the concept of GOD as held by the religions stemming from Abraham (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Provides development of the religious thought process from ancient times to modern, and explains the influence of Muslim philosophers and mystics upon the western religious beliefs. The passages describing the creation of the idea of “Trinity” by church leaders and not by Christ himself are eye openers. Only if Karen had touched upon Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, (who claimed to be the Messiah for the present times), and his philosophy of Islam and the concept of GOD, it would certainly have completed the discussion.

Author Details

Author Details

Armstrong, Karen

"Karen Armstrong spent seven years in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus during the 1960s and later wrote a tell-all book, ""Through the Narrow Gate"" (St. Martin's Press, 1982) that bemoaned the restrictive life. (The frightened nuns did not know the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 had ended for several weeks; they were not allowed to inquire about the outside world.) Armstrong is still hearing about the book: ""Catholics in England hate me. They've sent me excrement in the mail."" Readers who have followed her lately are learning her more optimistic ideas about what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common with A History of God (Ballantine, 1993), Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths (Knopf, 1996) and The Battle for God (Knopf, 2000) which all focus on what unites the three great monotheist faiths.

Armstrong teaches Christianity at London's Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism. It was her first trip to Jerusalem in 1983 that piqued her interest in commonality among faiths. ""I got back a sense of what faith is all about."" At the time she was an atheist who was ""wearied"" by religion and ""worn out by years of struggle."" Born a Roman Catholic in the countryside near Birmingham, England, in 1945, she gave up on religion after her time in the convent. ""I was suicidal,"" she said of life in her late 20s. ""I didn't know how to live apart from that regimented way of life.""

With an undergraduate degree in literature from Oxford University, she began teaching 19th and 20th century literature at the University of London and worked on a PhD. Three years later, her dissertation was rejected. Without it, she did not qualify to teach at the university level and took a job as head of the English department at a girls' school in London. Not long afterward, she was diagnosed with epilepsy. ""After six years at the school I was asked to leave, but nicely,"" she said. ""My early life is a complete catastrophe. It all worked out for the best.""

She left the school in 1982 and began working on television documentaries. The story that took her to Jerusalem set her on a new career path and changed her earlier impressions about God. She went from atheist to ""freelance monotheist"" but has never returned to the Catholic Church or joined any other.

Since her writing career took off, Armstrong's communion with God occurs in the library, where she spends up to three years researching her books, which are as densely packed with detail as her conversations. ""I get my spirituality in study,"" she said. ""The Jews say it happens, sometimes, studying the Torah.""

Armstrong says, ""It's inevitable that people turn to more than one religious tradition for inspiration,"" she said. ""It's part of globalization."" She recently read from the Buddhist canon of teachings for her next book. ""Religion is like a raft,"" she said, explaining the Buddha's view of it. ""Once you get across the river, moor the raft and go on. Don't lug it with you if you don't need it anymore."" She knows that mode of travel: Leave one raft behind to pick up the next just ahead.

She is the author of numerous books on religious affairs which have been translated into forty languages. She is also the author of three television documentaries and took part in Bill Moyers?s television series Genesis. Since September 11, 2001, she has been a frequent contributor to conferences, panels, newspapers, periodicals, and throughout the media on both sides of the Atlantic on the subject of Islam. She lives in London"