Born in Wildmoor, Worcestershire, in 1944, Armstrong joined a the convent of a Roman Catholic order when she was just 17.
While at the convent she attended Oxford University earning a degree in English literature but she became disillusioned with life in the convent and left after five years.
She dedicated her life to the study of religion, becoming aleading international scholar in the comparative study of Islam, Judaism and Christianity authoring more than 20 books on faith, the major religions and the common elements among them.
in 2009 she launched the Charter for Compassion movement, which became an international organization to promote joint efforts for peace.
She has already been honoured as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and has received the TED Award (USA, 2008), the Building Bridges Award from the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (UK, 2004) and The Freedom of Worship Award from the Roosevelt Foundation and the Roosevelt Institute (USA, 2008).
Announcing the Asturias prize, the jury said:
“A scholar of religious phenomena, Dr Armstrong is one of today's leading authorities in the study of the three religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She stands out for the depth of her historical analysis, her immense bibliographical and research work, and her active commitment to spreading an ethical message of compassion, peace and solidarity.
“Karen Armstrong is also actively involved in various international institutions responsible for fostering civic dialogue on religion. In conferring this award, the Jury wishes to highlight the importance of the study of religions so as to understand contemporary society and today's world.”
Armstrong follows in the footsteps of a fellow British female academic, Mary Beard. The historian won the same prize last year. Previous laureates include Sir David Attenborough, Bob Dylan and Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen.
The Princess of Asturias awards will be presented in the autumn in Oviedo at a grand ceremony chaired by the King and Queen of Spain.