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The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darknessby Karen Armstrong
Synopses & Reviews
Karen Armstrong begins this spellbinding story of her spiritual journey with her departure in 1969 from the Roman Catholic convent she had entered seven years before — hoping, but ultimately failing, to find God. She knew almost nothing of the changed world to which she was returning, and she was tormented by panic attacks and inexplicable seizures.
Armstrong's struggle against despair was further fueled by a string of discouragements — failed spirituality, doctorate, and jobs; fruitless dealings with psychiatrists. Finally, in 1976, she was diagnosed with epilepsy, given proper treatment, and released from her "private hell." She then began the writing career that would become her true calling, and as she focused on the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, her own inner story began to emerge. Without realizing it, she had embarked on a spiritual quest, and through it she would eventually experience moments of transcendence — the profound fulfillment that she had not found in long hours of prayer as a young nun.
Powerfully engaging, often heartbreaking, but lit with bursts of humor, The Spiral Staircase is an extraordinary history of self.
"Even among readers who embrace doctrines Armstrong dismisses (such as the reality of a personal God), this candid memoir will clarify thinking about the search for the sacred." Bryce Christensen, Booklist
"A minor masterpiece of dry, acerbic autobiography." Elle
"An engaging story of her own spiritual journey by contemporary religion's foremost public intellectual....[C]andid, witty, insightful, and moving. A book that teaches as it entertains." Marcus J. Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity
"I loved this powerful and moving account, and read it nonstop." Elaine Pagels, author of Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas
"The Spiral Staircase [is] a story about becoming human, being recognized, finally recognizing oneself....More than anything, it fills the reader with hope — not the sappy, uplifting kind but the sort that comes from the very best fairy tales." Carolyn See, The Washington Post
"An introspective, decidedly un-cheery work that seeks to set the author's record straight....Well-written and relentlessly self-aware." Kirkus Reviews
"A deeply moving account of a serious and large-hearted life. The book rings like the stroke of a bell — that clear, true tone. And it summons every reader to do the same." James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword
"A moving, insightful memoir... compulsively readable." Library Journal
Armstrong begins this spellbinding story of her spiritual journey with her departure in 1969 from the Roman Catholic convent she had entered seven years before — hoping, but failing, to find God. Powerfully engaging, often heartbreaking, but lit with bursts of humor, The Spiral Staircase is an extraordinary history of self.
In 1962, at age seventeen, Karen Armstrong entered a convent, eager to meet God. After seven brutally unhappy years as a nun, she left her order to pursue English literature at Oxford. But convent life had profoundly altered her, and coping with the outside world and her expiring faith proved to be excruciating. Her deep solitude and a terrifying illness-diagnosed only years later as epilepsy-marked her forever as an outsider. In her own mind she was a complete failure: as a nun, as an academic, and as a normal woman capable of intimacy. Her future seemed very much in question until she stumbled into comparative theology. What she found, in learning, thinking, and writing about other religions, was the ecstasy and transcendence she had never felt as a nun. Gripping, revelatory, and inspirational, The Spiral Staircase is an extraordinary account of an astonishing spiritual journey.
About the Author
Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous other books on religious affairs, including A History of God, The Battle for God, Through the Narrow Gate, Holy War, Islam, and Buddha. Her work has 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.
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