Why Religion? by Elaine Pagels

Why Religion?

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 late...

Details Why Religion?

TitleWhy Religion?
Release DateNov 6th, 2018
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Religion, Spirituality, Biography, History

Reviews Why Religion?

  • Clif Hostetler
    This memoir in addition to be of an account of overcoming personal tragedy, adds the unique dimension of insights of a respected historian of religion. Elaine Pagels is not only knowledgeable of the historical circumstances under which early scriptures were written, she found personal solace in those ancient words by identifying with the emotions and feeling that may have motivated those early writers. This book tells the story of how her persona...
  • Ron Charles
    A rare lung disease killed Elaine Pagels’s 6-year-old son, and then about a year later her husband fell to his death while mountain climbing. After that Job-like run of tragedies, no one would have blamed Pagels if she had decided to “curse God and die.”But she held on. Through rage and terror and despair so overwhelming that it made her faint, she held on.“I had to look into that darkness,” she says at the opening of her new memoir, ...
  • Canadian Reader
    In 1945, two years after Elaine Pagels was born in northern California, an Arab farmer on the other side of the world made a stunning discovery. In a cave near the village of Nag Hammadi in Egypt, he found a six-foot-long jar containing 52 secret texts. They were gospels in Coptic Egyptian, which presented mystical sayings, beliefs, and ideas of Jesus that were quite different from those found in the New Testament. Deemed heretical at the time of...
  • Mεδ Rεδħα
    A rare lung disease killed Elaine Pagels’s 6-year-old son, and then about a year later her husband fell to his death while mountain climbing. After that Job-like run of tragedies, no one would have blamed Pagels if she had decided to “curse God and die.”But she held on. Through rage and terror and despair so overwhelming that it made her faint, she held on.“I had to look into that darkness,” she says at the opening of her new memoir, ...
  • Rebecca
    (3.5) Pagels is a religion scholar best known for her work on the Gnostic Gospels of the Nag Hammadi library, such as the Gospel of Thomas. She grew up in a nonreligious Californian household, but joined a friend’s youth group and answered the altar call at a Billy Graham rally. Although she didn’t stick with Evangelicalism, Christianity continued to speak to her, and spirituality provided a measure of comfort in the hard times ahead: inferti...
  • Holly
    I've been reading Elaine Pagels since 1990, the summer after my sophomore year in college. I remember stealing little reading breaks while canvassing for Greenpeace in Kansas City. I'd sit on the grass and read 10-20 pages of The Gnostic Gospels, and feminist theologian Carol P. Christ's Laughter of Aphrodite, and Catherine Keller's From a Broken Web. A few weeks later I'd begin Adam, Eve, and the Serpent - I was finding such intellectual excitem...
  • Eilonwy
    Elaine Pagels is fairly well-known for her writing about early Christianity, especially the Gnostic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas. This memoir doesn’t so much answer the question of “Why have religion?” as it does the question her not-yet-husband asked her with the two title words, which was “Why study religion, of all possible subjects?” Pagels was brought up in an atheist family. But she was drawn into evangelical Christianity as a...
  • Mary Novaria
    Elaine Pagels is clearly more comfortable addressing her chosen field of study than she is writing about her own personal struggles. While she outlines the horrific tragedies of losing her young son and husband within a year of each other, she never does a deep dive into her agony and any ramifications it may have had on her own religious experience or faith.To say it's "A Personal Story" is only partially true. She gives us the physical details ...
  • Peter Mcloughlin
    You might be put off by the authors focus on her biography in the beginning. It may come off as boomer navel-gazing that may annoy some readers. Be patient. The book gets much better as it goes on it explores some deep philosophical and religious ideas as she goes on with her journey. I assure you she is a deep thinker and she is seasoned with much life experience. She understands a great deal about human psychology and how religion expresses som...
  • Charlene
    This short book may have deserved an extra star. I felt I was handicapped by not having read any of her works. Book is both a personal and academic memoir -- Pagels, coming from a non-believing family, is a historian of religion, Harvard educated and one of the experts (and translators) of the Gnostic gospels. She talks about what religion has meant to her, particularly as she struggled with Job-like tragedies (losing her 6 year old son to heart ...
  • Deyanne
    Although I may not agree with all of Elaine Pagels' beliefs, I completed this book with a deep respect for the author and her probing and questioning mind. Her personal story is told with tenderness, honesty and openness. She has my admiration on many levels.
  • Donna
    This is the first Elaine Pagels book I've read, and I am aware of her other books and general philosophy.For most of the book I struggled with the title "Why Religion" because the book was about tremendous loss in her life with a bit of history of some of the books she'd written. I kept wondering when she was going to answer the question.By the end of the book, I realized that she had been looking for something in her beliefs to help her make sen...
  • Jo
    A very moving and well written memoir that doesn’t even come close to answering the title question
  • Danielle
    Elaine Pagels is a well known writer about religion. In this book, which is in many respects a memoir, she examines her own religious life as a jumping off point to look at what purpose religion serves and why people still turn to religion. She examines her own religious experiences, her skepticism about religion, her religious research, and how she experienced religion during the traumatic loss of her son as a young child followed by the unthink...
  • Mehrsa
    This book is part memoir and part scholarship. It works mostly and doesn’t work at times. I actually preferred the parts where she goes into her scholarship on ancient scripture and I plan to read her other books. The tragedies of her life make the book real and heartbreaking. I don’t think the book is an answer to its title, but it’s still a worthwhile read
  • Paul Womack
    This gentle book combines personal story, theological reflection, and a fine summary of her academic work. The questions she asks are familiar, as are the answers she finds. Her scholarly work has informed my own thinking, although the life experiences which prompted my questions were deeply existential and quite unlike her own life and work. This is a book I recommend to my clergy colleagues and seekers of all kinds.
  • Libby
    Elaine Pagels shares her life's connections with religion beginning with going to a Billy Graham crusade at the age of fifteen; she was "born again" that day. Her father, hating religion, was very angry, believing in Darwinism, and her mother just wanted to keep the peace at home. Pagels describes her life growing up as "flat" and emotionally devoid, so she was drawn to the emotive world of spirituality. Later, when a friend dies in a car acciden...
  • Charles
    I've been a fan of Elaine Pagels ever since I stumbled across The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans and Heretics a couple of decades ago. It took me years of rereading to really "get" that book, because even though I had been immersed in the Bible for most of my life, I had no knowledge of ancient history outside the Bible. Pagels' books were intimidating but also invigorating because they made me look at the Gospels with fre...
  • Jennifer Kepesh
    This is the first of Elaine Pagels books that I've finished. I have bought many of her previous books, which are an academic's explanation of some of the important religious texts (especially ur-texts to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and her area of expertise, the Gnostic Gospels and other manuscripts that didn't make it into the bible as it was constructed by early Christian leaders). She chooses fascinating subjects, but the books require ei...
  • Jane Ginter
    Enjoyed this book. Couldn’t stop reading it once I started.
  • Age
    Unsurprisingly, I loved Elaine Pagels’ book Why Religion? given I’ve loved most of her other works. I will say that as a memoir goes, it is not for everyone. Unfortunately, I think “memoir” gives people license to critique the book on the basis of how emotive the author is or is not. I read some reviews where people felt she could not adhere to that standby “show, don’t tell” and that readers were unable to fully feel the pain Pagel...
  • Sam
    I will expand on my review later. One of the best memoirs I've read in a long time, in part because it is half memoir and half cultural/religion history on how the biblical myths/stories so deeply embedded in our Western culture whether we are Christian or not affect how we experience suffering, love, the loss of loved ones, etc. Pagels is a brilliant historian of religion and expert on the Gnostic Gospels. One wonders how the the course of Chris...
  • Michael Austin
    “The work of culture is to make suffering sufferable.” --Clifford Geertz Elaine Pagels invokes this quotation from noted anthropologist Clifford Geertz in perhaps the most painful part of the book--a description of her attempt to go on living after her six-year-old son, Mark, died of a rare pulmonary condition. She aggressively rejects the idea that we are supposed to "find meaning" in such a tragic death. At best, we can create some meaning ...
  • Victor Smith
    I’ve been long familiar with and deeply impressed by the ground-breaking research and writing of Dr. Elaine Pagels in the realm of traditional and apocryphal biblical translation and interpretation. Her approach to religion and spirituality infused my own writing, which include the role of the so-called Gnostic gospels in the formation of the Christian era. Most of her scholarly works were written before or shortly after the turn of the millenn...
  • Robin Kirk
    I've loved Elaine Pagels since some brilliant college professor (whose name I've forgotten) assigned The Gnostic Gospels: A Startling Account of the Meaning of Jesus and the Origin of Christianity Based on Gnostic Gospels and Other Secret Texts to my class. I was pretty atheist -- no, like radically anti-religion -- but examining these lost and heretical texts gave me new insight into why religion matters and why people fight over the interpretat...
  • B. Rule
    I really like Pagels and reading her account of the deaths of her child and husband in quick succession is anguishing. She tells her life story in a placid, almost prim reportorial style that belies the impressive breadth of her accomplishments and the titanic depths of existential questing that led her to them. She's not really one for bragging, and you get lulled into a rhythm where of course everyone goes to Harvard to study religion after bei...
  • Socraticgadfly
    This is another of those split review ratings.The book gets 5 stars as a mini-biography of Pagels and 3 stars for her interpretation of Gnostic literature and alleged Gnostic ideas in and influences on the New Testament.Here, she most struggles with the Eucharist and the crucifixion.On the Eucharist, IMO, she never gives a full history of the idea of "mysterion" and existence of the concept as revelatory but not necessarily in a Gnostic way.This ...
  • Mary
    Since I discovered Dr. Elaine Pagels, I have regarded her as a role model based on her academic work as I came to appreciate it through her books. But this book is different. It is intensely personal. She shares the nightmares of she and her husband suffering through the death of their 6 year old son Mark to an incurable disease and then her suffering over the death of her husband Heinz a short time later in a climbing accident. So how has her li...
  • Myles
    Elaine Pagels’ “Why Religion” like Joan Didion’s “Year of Magical Thinking” is not a book I would recommend for your summer vacation. Sad! Beautiful but too darned sad.Both authors try to cope with the death of husband and child, in Pagel’s work, a very young child. There is the survivor’s guilt, the extraordinary loneliness, the problems rejoining life, and what seems to be the worst, the utter lack of meaning behind why life at ...