Karen Armstrong honoured with Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences

St Anne's College would like to congratulate alumna Karen Armstrong OBE who has been honoured with the 2017 Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences.


The awards are a series of annual prizes awarded in Spain by the Princess of Asturias Foundation (previously the Prince of Asturias Foundation) to individuals, entities or organizations from around the world who make notable achievements in the sciences, humanities, and public affairs. 

The prize was established on 24 September 1980 by Felipe, Prince of Asturias, heir to the throne of Spain, " to contribute to, encourage and promote scientific, cultural and humanistic values that form part of mankind's universal heritage."  A sculpture, expressly created for the prize by Spanish sculptor Joan Miró, is presented yearly to the recipients of the prize. Previous winners include Mary Beard, David Attenborough and Raymond Carr. This is the fifth of eight Princess of Asturias Awards to be bestowed this year, now in their thirty-seventh edition. The awards will be presented in the autumn in Oviedo at a grand ceremony chaired by TM The King and Queen of Spain.

Karen Armstrong entered the Catholic Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus in 1962 and, as a novice, began her studies at St Anne’s College, Oxford. She left the order in 1969, subsequently earning a degree in Contemporary Literature. She published her first book in 1982 and a year later wrote and presented a documentary series on the life of St Paul for Channel 4 television, followed by three more. Since 1984, she has devoted herself mainly to writing about religion. 

Karen Armstrong is considered a leading international scholar in the comparative study of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Her first book was Through the Narrow Gate (1982), a memoir she continued in The Spiral Staircase (2004).  She has also authored 20 other titles on faith, the major religions, the common elements among them, and the role they play in the modern world. 

Her studies and books on Islam –Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (1991) was the first– made her known as a thinker and researcher among the Muslim community of the United Kingdom and the United States. Armstrong has found compassion to be the common element to all religions, understood as empathy for and interest in one’s neighbour. In order to recover compassion as the core of ethics and religion, in 2009 she launched the Charter for Compassion movement, which became an international organization to promote joint efforts for peace. She also gives talks around the world and writes articles in various publications such as The Guardian.

In 2008 she was awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal and, in the same year, won the TED prize. In 2013 she received the British Academy’s inaugural Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for improving Transcultural Understanding. 

Statement from Karen Armstrong:


I want to express my deep gratitude to the Foundation of the Princess Astorias Award for Social Sciences for this very great honour. We are living in perilous times. We have created a global market where we are more closely linked to one another than ever before: our economies are deeply interdependent; what happens in Syria or Yemen today can have repercussions in London or Manchester tomorrow; we are electronically connected on the world-wide web; our histories are deeply intertwined; and we all face the same environment challenges. We cannot live without one another and yet increasingly we are retreating aggressively into nationalistic, religious and cultural ghettoes.

It is therefore essential that we understand the religious, political and ideological aspirations and fears of our global neighbours. There is much talk about winning the battle for hearts and minds, but we shall unable to do this unless we know what is really in them, as opposed to what we imagine might be there. We urgently need to examine received ideas and assumptions, look beneath the sound-bites of the news to the complex realities that are tearing our world apart, realizing, at a profound level, that we share the planet not with inferiors but equals.

Photo credit: J.D. Sloan

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