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‘Why Religion? A Personal Story’

Author Poses and Seeks Answers to Universal Questions

Photo: Courtesy

“I remember nearly nothing: a black hole had opened up and swallowed our life.” So writes Elaine Pagels about the day her husband, Heinz, died from a fall while hiking in the hills near their Colorado home. Only a year earlier, Heinz and Elaine lost their 6-year-old son, Mark, to pulmonary hypertension, a rare, incurable disease. 

Elaine Pagels is a renowned religious scholar, Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and the author of The Gnostic Gospels, Beyond Belief, and Revelations. In Why Religion?, Pagels grapples with the deepest questions of grief, loss, and sorrow, mining her knowledge of the world’s religious traditions to attempt to cope and make sense of the deaths of her son and husband. In this extraordinary personal story, Pagels examines the difference between knowledge of the intellect and knowledge of the heart. Is suffering a punishment or a test, somehow good for us, or is it, as Buddhists believe, an essential element of human existence, one that every human being will experience in one form or another?

Why Religion? poses and seeks to answer the most universal questions. The book chronicles a search for meaning beyond personal suffering and is a profound meditation on the invisible bonds “connecting all of us with countless others and with our world and whatever is beyond it.”  


Elaine Pagels will appear in the UCSB Arts & Lectures Speaking with Pico Series in January 2020. 

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