People have always found meaning in religious life. Even as the secular world offers new answers and technologies, we continue to look to centuries-old systems of belief to help us understand our lives and the world we live in. Despite secular claims of irrelevance, religion persists. Why this is so is a question acclaimed scholar of religion Elaine Pagels answers through a blend of meticulous research and an earnest exploration of her own struggles with faith in Why Religion? A Personal Story (Harper Collins, November 2018).
Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion at Princeton University, a MacArthur Fellow, and a best-selling author whose groundbreaking books include Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (Penguin, 2004) and The Gnostic Gospels (Penguin, 1989), for which she won the National Book Award.
The intimately personal narrative that Pagels presents in her most recent work is a departure from her earlier scholarly works. In Why Religion?, she reflects on her grief following the death of her young son and the sudden loss of her husband only a year later, which led her to re-examine the religious teachings she has studied and taught throughout her decades of scholarship.
Here, Pagels joins Tricycle’s editor and publisher, James Shaheen, to discuss her life and work, the role of religion in our culture today, the parallels between Jesus and the Buddha, and the practical consequences of how we answer abstract theological questions.
Tricycle Talks is a podcast series featuring leading voices in the contemporary Buddhist world.
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