New York Times bestseller
One of PW’s Best Books of the Year
One of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month
Why is religion still around in the twenty-first century? Why do so many still believe? And how do various traditions still shape the way people experience everything from sexuality to politics, whether they are religious or not? In Why Religion? Elaine Pagels looks to her own life to help address these questions.
These questions took on a new urgency for Pagels when dealing with unimaginable loss—the death of her young son, followed a year later by the shocking loss of her husband. Here she interweaves a personal story with the work that she loves, illuminating how, for better and worse, religious traditions have shaped how we understand ourselves; how we relate to one another; and, most importantly, how to get through the most difficult challenges we face.
Drawing upon the perspectives of neurologists, anthropologists, and historians, as well as her own research, Pagels opens unexpected ways of understanding persistent religious aspects of our culture.
A provocative and deeply moving account from one of the most compelling religious thinkers at work today, Why Religion? explores the spiritual dimension of human experience.
In this beautiful memoir, Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels), professor of religion at Princeton Univ. and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, addresses the titular question by recounting her life story. Raised in an intellectually atheist household, she "came to Christ" at a Billy Graham Crusade in the late 1950s. While her traditional Christian beliefs tempered over time, that conversion unlocked her spiritual imagination. With haunting echoes from the Book of Job (which she unpacks with skillful clarity), Pagels tells a story of love, marriage, and family life alongside a vibrant academic career. Her 1979 bestseller, The Gnostic Gospels, launched her to academic fame. Nearly a decade later, her six-year-old son, Mark, died of a heart problem, and her husband of 20 years, Heinz, died in a hiking accident. In her deepest grief, Pagels's body was covered with boils, like Job's an acute stress reaction. She writes of feeling empty but fighting to remain strong in order to care for her two young children ("When we confront the unknown, any interpretation is provisional, necessarily incomplete"). Pagels treats readers to the examined life behind her intellectual feats with extreme grace and depth. This luminous memoir strips religion to its elementary particles: love, suffering, and mystery.