Thursday, November 8

Harvard Book Store Presents (Past Events)Special Events Archive

Elaine Pagels

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Elaine Pagels


Why Religion?:
A Personal Story

in conversation with ARUN RATH

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This event includes a book signing

Harvard Book Store and Mass Humanities welcome preeminent academic ELAINE PAGELS for a discussion of her latest book, Why Religion?: A Personal Story. She will be joined in conversation by WGBH and NPR correspondent ARUN RATH.

About 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 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 compelling, honest, and learned memoir, Elaine Pagels, takes us inside her own life in a stirring and illuminating effort to explain religion’s enduring appeal. This is a powerful book about the most powerful of forces.” —Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America

“With characteristic intelligence and wisdom, Elaine Pagels lays bare her own life-shattering losses, offering up the possibility that suffering might afford each of us membership in a profoundly connected human—and cosmic—community. Why Religion? is a revelation and an immense consolation.” —Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the United States

“Elaine Pagels has written an extraordinary memoir of loss, spiritual struggle, illumination and insight—emotionally heartrending, intellectually exciting, a model of what a memoir should be.” —Joyce Carol Oates

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Featured event books will be for sale at the event for 20% off. Thank you for supporting this author series with your purchases.

Co-Sponsored by Mass Humanities

Mass Humanities

Mass Humanities conducts and supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life in Massachusetts. Learn more at

Arun Rath

Arun Rath is a correspondent for NPR and WGBH News. Previously he served as weekend host of All Things Considered. Over his career, Rath has distinguished himself in public media as a reporter, producer, and editor, including time as a senior reporter for the PBS series Frontline and The World on WGBH Boston. In 2000, he became senior producer for NPR’s On the Media, produced by WNYC, where he was part of a team that tripled its audience and won a Peabody Award.

Elaine Pagels

Elaine Pagels is a preeminent academic whose impressive scholarship has earned her international respect. The Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, Pagels was awarded the Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and MacArthur Fellowships in three consecutive years. She is the author of The Gnostic GospelsBeyond Belief, and Revelations.