Elaine Pagels Interview
Westar Institute Spring Meeting
Santa Rosa, California
Elaine Pagels is Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion at Princeton University. A recipient of the MacArthur Prize, she received Princeton University’s Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities. As one nominator wrote, Pagels has the ability “to show readers that the ancient texts she studies are concerned with the great questions of human existence though they may discuss them in … language very different from our own.”
Here Pagels tells how a chance encounter with Billy Graham’s preaching sparked a powerful interest in religion, albeit one which took her toward the critical study of religion. She describes her early encounters with Gnostic and other early Christian texts, as a translator and then an interpreter of their significance for early Christian history. Through the interconnections between her personal experiences and research, Pagels addresses the problem of how we are to define Christianity meaningfully in ancient and modern times.
Pagels’ 1979 book, The Gnostic Gospels, won the National Book Critic’s Circle Award and the National Book Award, and was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best books of the 20th century. Her other titles include the bestselling Origin of Satan (1995), Beyond Belief (2003), and most recently, Revelations (2012).