(My comment is posted at Kristof’s blog post about this article: A Truce in the Religious Wars?)
The moderate and open-minded view of religion has been around for a long time, but you wouldn’t know it for all the publicized conflict between the Fundamentalists and the New Atheists.
There was a great surge of open religious discussion in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, but then the conservative religious bent returned to suppress liberal-minded inquiry for many decades. As new Gnostic texts came to light and gained more attention, slowly but surely a new generation of scholars began presenting alternative viewpoints.
Joseph Campbell set the stage for the contemporary liberal strain of religious studies, but his influence became less obvious after he died. Apparently, there was no one at the time to take Campbell’s place as he had large shoes to fill. At the same time, conservative Evangelicals had been gaining power and have managed to be very influential in recent decades. Liberal scholars still did great scholarship, but they weren’t able to get as much public attention.
Finally, liberal scholarship is regaining popularity again. It seems that Karen Armstrong is in a position to take up the role Campbell once played. The public is tired of the endless friction between the extremists on either side of the theist/atheist divide.