Elaine Pagels, who wrote the last of the SSUC Library’s Featured Books—her foundational work, The Gnostic Gospels— “is a hard person to describe in a word,” though the Washington Times reviewer of Why Religion? tried: scholar, author, historian, heretic. But Philip Kopper concludes, “‘hero’ fits best, namely an individual who faces ordeals of indescribable agony, and prevails….”
According to Publishers Weekly, Pagels, in Why Religion?, “addresses the titular question by recounting her life story.” It is “a raw and often moving autobiography,” Kirkus Reviews affirms, for it tells how a fatal heart condition took the life of her only son while he was still in kindergarten, and then, just a year later, how her husband fell to his death while mountain climbing in the Colorado Rockies.
In the face of such travail, Pagels, America’s “most popular historian of religion,” The Washington Post reports, delved into the Gospels, Paul’s letters, the Gnostic texts, and Buddhist and Trappist monk insights, “until she understood that suffering is an essential and common element of human life.” Kirkus Reviews ends its critique by stating, simply and truly, “A meaningful tale of pain and hope on the edges of faith.” Read it, with tissues handy.
Why Religion? A Personal Story
By Elaine Pagels