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Karen Armstrong: The Lost Art of Scripture

One of the world’s leading commentators on religion presents an exclusive keynote talk on the use and abuse of holy texts in today’s world.

The Qur’an is used by some to justify war and acts of terrorism, the Torah to deny Palestinians the right to live in the Land of Israel, and the Bible to condemn homosexuality and contraception. When religion is often viewed as the source of conflict, what role can scripture have in creating greater compassion and understanding?

In her new book, The Lost Art of Scripture, Karen Armstrong asks us to consider scripture as an art form. Like most art, its interpretation relies on the right hemisphere of the brain – the seat of empathy, which allows us to perceive the interconnections around us.

Scripture today is often invoked to prescribe ethical norms and divinely ordained truths. But the way we approach scripture has changed over time – and not necessarily for the better.

Until the modern period, scripture always had a forward-thrusting dynamic. People did not look back to the original message of their scriptures but made these ancient texts speak to their current circumstances and interpreting scripture was a creative, innovative art. In some scriptures, the sound of the sacred words has always been more important than the sense.

Above all, scripture demanded practical, compassionate action, insisted on the sacredness of all beings, and in some traditions made people profoundly aware of the fragility of the cosmic order. Scripture can enable us to transcend our mundane experience and discover the sacred within ourselves.

Karen Armstrong is one of the world's most acclaimed and respected authors on religious affairs. She spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun, but left her teaching order in 1969 to read English at St Anne's College, Oxford. She is a bestselling author of over 16 books, including The Case for God and Fields of Blood.

Armstrong has addressed members of the United States government and has participated in the World Economic Forum. In 2009, she was awarded the TED Prize, which enabled her to found the Charter for Compassion, now a global movement. She has won multiple awards for her work, including the Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal for Religious Liberty.

Dates & times

3 Jun 2019
Approximate run time: 90 mins
Run times may vary, find out more


Purcell Room


Booking fee: £3.00 (Members £0.00)


25% off (limited availability)
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need to know

Age recommendation
For ages 16+

Ahead of publication, copies of Karen Armstrong’s new book The Lost Art of Scripture (RRP £25) are available for £18.50 when you buy a ticket to the event. These may be collected at the event.

Event information
The talk is followed by a Q&A.

The author is signing copies of her book in Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer after the event.