The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong

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.

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Armstrong: The Spiral Staircase

This is an excerpt from Karen Armstrong’s presentation on The Spiral Staircase from the Jesus Seminar (Westar Institute) Spring Meeting in 2004. For more information or to purchase the complete video, visit our website at or check out

Oprah sits down with Karen Armstrong—a former Roman Catholic nun and a world-renowned religious scholar—to discuss her memoir The Spiral Staircase. Karen reveals deep personal struggles that ultimately became steppingstones in her spiritual journey.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie Jill Rudd
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 06:20:52

    Like is not good enough. I adore this! I had never come across Karen before, love her and her work, have just ordered two of her books and done a post myself, all inspired from this post of yours – thankyou! x


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