Karen Armstrong, a long-time resident of Helsinki, Finland, where she held the position of Professor of Social Anthropology at Helsinki University, died on 29 May. The cause of death was complications following surgery for a cerebral meningioma. She was 67.
Armstrong’s career in anthropology spanned more than four decades. Her research focused on politics, social and cultural transformation, kinship, personal narratives and gender. She conducted fieldwork in Scotland, in the South Pacific Island societies of Guam, American Samoa, Vanuatu, Melanesia, and in Finland.
Karen Virginia Armstrong was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on 26 December 1946, the daughter of Edward Adams and Virginia Rebholtz Armstrong, A lively, interested student, she achieved academic recognition at an early age. She graduated from Mount Penn High School in June of 1964, and completed her Bachelors, Masters and PhD requirements at the University of Pittsburgh by the age of 26. Armstrong’s first faculty appointment was as an associate professor in the anthropology department at Purchase College in New York. Following her departure from Purchase, she was a member of the faculty of the sociology department at Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia, for a short time before accepting a Fulbright Research Fellowship in 1987 to develop an anthropology curriculum within the sociology department at Tampere University in Tampere, Finland. After two years at Tampere, Armstrong was invited to join the anthropology department at Helsinki, where she remained until her death.
While anthropology was the predominant focus of her life, Armstrong was hardly one-dimensional. She was an avid reader, capable of discussing nineteenth and twentieth-century literature with expertise equal to that demonstrated by her voluminous grasp of culture and politics.
Armstrong is survived by two daughters, Delia and Annika, along with their father. She is also survived by her loyal companion Robbie, a Border Collie.