Yesterday, I finished Elaine Pagels’ moving memoir Why Religion? A Personal Story (Ecco, 2018). If Pagels’ name is unfamiliar to the general reader, it is not to scholars of the Bible and early Christianity. Pagels has been writing provocative books about early Christianity and its interface with Gnosticism since the 1970’s. Her 1979 book The Gnostic Gospels was a popular introduction to the Nag Hammadi library that became a publishing sensation. Her work in this book caught the attention of a popular readership and garnered numerous awards.
She has written many other books since then, so her scholarly work has been well-known for decades now. And yet, this latest book, Why Religion?, seems different. It is a deeply personal narrative of her life, not just as a scholar but as a wife and a mother. Her account reveals that her work as an author has been deeply impacted by her own personal search for meaning in the midst of suffering. And her suffering has indeed been profound. Continue Reading →