Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday TED Talk: Karen Armstrong on the Proper Goal for Religion

The TEDGlobal 2009 Conference in Oxford begins next week, and I plan to be there. (I am very much looking forward to my first ever visit to that city; I will be staying, appropriately enough, in Keble College, named for one of the founders of the Oxford Movement.) One of the speakers will be Karen Armstrong, the one-time nun who thought she had left religion for good to become a professor of English literature, only to become immersed in the history and comparative study of religions after she made a life-changing visit to Jerusalem. (You can see a list of the numerous books she has authored here.)

When she spoke at the TED Conference in Monterey in 2008, she had been awarded the highest honor TED bestows: named a recipient of the TED Prize, which carries a stipend of $100,000 plus the right to express a wish that will change the world, and invite TEDsters and any other willing participants to turn the wish into reality. Here is the video of the talk in which she formulated her wish:

You may watch the talk in high-res video, or download it in other formats from this page. There is a YouTube video here which describes the project she launched, the Charter for Compassion. And here is a page where you can learn more about the progress made thus far on realizing Karen Armstrong's wish, including a video update presented at the TED 2009 gathering.

As you may imagine, my blogging schedule will be light over the next few weeks, although I will (if the WiFi connections work) try to post some updates from TEDGlobal 2009. Use the Guide to This Site at the right to immerse yourself in any of the topics covered by this blog. By the time I return, I should be refreshed and ready to take up the cudgel once more.


  1. Not a bad wish, in general. The theology that goes with it concerns me. But compassion (and, for myself, I need to add mercy) is certainly a worthy goal.

  2. I believe you will enjoy your time in Oxford. Keble was my college when I was at Oxford 1968-72.

    Positive: a college with amazing Pre-Raphaelite style architecture by Butterfield, reflecting the spirit of the Oxford Movement. Make sure you go to see the chapel with its ornate mosaic decoration. Go into the side room of the chapel to see the original version of Holman Hunt's painting: "The Light of the World," inspired by Revelation 3:20 (I'm fairly sure its still on display).

    Negative: a room almost anywhere in the larger Liddon Quad is OK, or in the newer dormitory buildings at the back of the college, which have been built since my time there. Beware a room in the clocktower in Pusey Quad. It chimes every hour and, I think, every quarter. Unless they've done something about it since I was there, you will find it difficult to sleep!

  3. Father Gregory, I, too, have serious problems with Ms. Armstrong's theology, and the thing I find wanting in her project is that, like the Tower of Babel, it is a collective effort by Man on his own --- in this case, to reinvent the revelation already received and to put it in his own words. I also agree that the world could do with a lot more compassion just now; it's just that it's a bit hard to settle for second-best when the strength of the original is undiminished.

    Topper, thanks for that info -- I will put it to good use.

  4. Karen's tower-of-Babel vision, soon-to-come global currency, resetting the button with Russia (while Russia launches missles from a submarine), the steady diet of bread (fast food) and circuses (celebrities)... This is not a time for Christians to become distracted or confused.

    Enjoy your time in Oxford, but keep the Faith.

  5. If you should happen to drop by St. Thomas the Martyr, the parish church of the blogging Fr. Hunwicke, my friend:

    please greet him from me -- and here's his church's daily schedule:

  6. Thank you for that timely information, Professor Tighe. I shall certainly attend a mass at your friend's church, and will be pleased to convey your greetings.

    Oxford thus far is simply a delightful experience. It is architecturally wonderfully splendid and varied, but it has a much more village-like feel to it, and is actually still intimate on a scale that London must have lost in the 1800's. The intermingling of University with the town makes for a vibrant atmosphere from which each mutually benefits.

  7. I always found Oxford to be rather urban by comparison with Cambridge, where I lived from 1978-79 and 81-85 (with two years in London between): Cambridge were very crowded on Saturdays (which was the local market day) and it seemed to me then that Oxford was crowded in that way every day.

    This might amuse you:

    although it will be very sad if he does nothing, or nothing sigfnificant (which is what I expect).