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Elaine Pagels: 2019 National Book Festival

Elaine Pagels: 2019 National Book Festival


>>I’m Jon Peede:
Good afternoon. I’m Jon Peede, the Chairman
of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and on
behalf of my colleagues, we want to welcome you to
the pavilion we have funded. And before we start, could we
just acknowledge the wonderful work of the Library of Congress,
Dr. Haden, and the staff. [ Applause ] And, it’s my honor to
have– as chairman– to have Elaine Pagels with
us for this special session. And I know you know a lot about
her books and her achievements. But I still want to make
sure I highlight a number of points from her biography. She is the Harrington Spear
Paine Foundation Professor of Religion at Princeton
University. She holds a PhD from
Harvard and is a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship
which is commonly known as a genius fellowship. She was awarded the National
Humanities medal in 2015. This is the highest award that the federal government
gives to a humanist. And it is our agency that nominates those
individuals to the president. Her field of scholarly research
has been broadly supported by the Humanities Endowment, especially the Nag Hammandi
Library, which is a cache of Coptic translations of
early Greek Christian writing that was discovered
in Egypt around 1945. And out of that work grew
our great scholarship course and she is the author of numerous academically
distinguished and commercially successful
books including of course, “The Gnostic Gospels” which
one both National Book Award and the National Book
Critic Circle Award. Her other books include,
“The Origin of Satan”, “Beyond Belief– the
Secret Gospel of Thomas”. She is published widely on
early Christianity and continues to pursue research
interest in late antiquity. Here, though, we are talking
about a different book. A more personal book, an unexpected memoir–
“Why Religion?” And so first, I might begin
with that question that many of us people of faith had
that in our childhood. What was your experience?>>Elaine Pagels: Well, I’m
very happy to talk about this. I’m very happy– first of all,
I want to say thank you to you, Jon, and the other people
of the National Endowment because it’s given so much
to people in our field. That day of receiving that award from President Obama
was a great joy. And so I’m– [applause]
really appreciative. Thank you. [applause] This book
is very different. I just decided at a
certain point I wanted to write my own story. Not the kind of history
I had done before, but a first-person story about why somebody would
study the history of religion. Why I love it. What it means, and
how this work emerged. So, that’s what this
book is about.>>Jon Peede: Absolutely. And, your husband Heinz
was a scientist and–>>Elaine Pagels: Yes.>>John Peede: — a lot
of people talk about the– how do we reconcile
science and religion? And would love to
hear your insights on where they may differ–
those forms of knowledge– and where they may overlap.>>Elaine Pagels: Well, yes. And that refers to what
you said about families. In my family, we were raised
sort of culturally Protestant, but my father had
given up is kind of ferocious Presbyterianism
as his family for Darwin. As soon as he discovered
Darwin, he said forget about it. Nobody– no one with
any education who knows about science would
bother with religion. So he was kind of
shocked when I started to become fascinated
by this field. And my husband Heinz, well he
was a physicist when I met him. And he said religion? Why religion? What do you do something that
has impact in the real world? [laughter] And I said, well, why do you study
elementary particles? I mean you can’t see them. I mean what is this about? Anyway, we discovered that
we were each fascinated to find something
fundamental about our lives and about human culture
and about the world. And you know, science
and religion– my father thought
they were clashing. Because so many people in
this country have imagined that Christianity or any
other religious tradition was to be taken literally. So both the people who take
it literally and love it and the people who take it
literally and despise it failed to see that it’s not
meant that way at all. That these are symbolic systems
that they speak about hope and the imagination and
how we find meaning. And the questions are so
different from those of science.>>Jon Peede: Absolutely. And for those who do
interpret Scripture as literal, whether it’s the Bible
or it’s the Torah, we have these traditions
as these are the set books. Tell us about how the
Gnostic Gospels makes that a more complicated
question. If you might explain to the audience what these
extra-textual works are, these apocryphal works.>>Elaine Pagels: Yes. I mean, this book starts in a
place that would surprise some of my critics who think that
somehow I’m against religion. I’ve sometimes been
called Elaine Pagan. [laughter] Because when I
went to graduate school, I was asking the
question what do we know about Christianity
we how did it start? What do we know about
Jesus of Nazareth, anyway? And I was amazed to discover that our professors
had file cabinets full of Gospels I had never heard of. Like the Gospel of Thomas,
and the Gospel of Peter, and the Gospel of Philip,
the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. What are these? And we realized they
were written very early like the other Gospels
now in the New Testament, but the bishops about the
fourth century censored them– said these are all heresy. These are the wrong ones. The right ones and the good
Gospels and the bad Gospels. Actually, they’re
not that at all. The Gospels in the
New Testament claim to teach what Jesus taught
publicly when he was talking to crowds of people
thousands of people. The Gospel of Thomas,
the Gospel of Philip, the gospel of Mary Magdalene,
say that Jesus taught privately to certain people
that he felt we are at a deeper spiritual level. Just as any first century Rabbi
like Jesus I mean him in Greek in the New Testament
when they say teacher of course the word is Rabbi. So, if he taught
the way others did, he would have taught one
way to a large congregation and another way to
his private disciples. In these secret Gospels
claim to teach that. But they were censored
in the fourth century. They were all declared
sort of heretical junk. And they were discarded,
burned, destroyed, and they were found only
in 1945 in upper Egypt. And it was the ’70s
and ’80s before– when I was in graduate school
before they were finally published for the first time.>>Jon Peede: And again, this area of study
[inaudible] endowment because our funding has
supported the scholarly analysis and also the Dead Sea Scrolls.>>Elaine Pagels: Yes.>>Jon Peede: Which
are a piece of that. So two things we are going on. He was saying something that– and in church that’s on a
Sunday would be a very difficult message to hear–
there was pushback in the scholarly community. Also we shouldn’t
overlook the fact that you were a young
female scholar saying this. You didn’t have 20 books. This is an early career. So, would you take
us back to how much of a pushback was related
to how women were treated in the Academy at that time.>>Elaine Pagels: Well,
I remember that one of my professors I spent a year
at Oxford, and he said he wrote in a review of the book on the
secret Gospels that you know, women are very interested in
this kind of heretical stuff. They have– you know,
they are very gullible. They have bad judgment. He read that and you know
read the New Testament. So, he knew that. And we were always saying
well what are so different about these other Gospels? Why is it that the bishops and
the churches rejected them? And it seems to me the major
difference is that the Gospels in the New Testament all suggest
that Jesus is enormously unique and enormously important and
you have to believe in Jesus. That’s the whole point. These other Gospels speak about
Jesus, but they speak about him as someone who helps you
find yourself and your truth. What struck me when I read the
Gospel of Thomas is the saying where Jesus says, if you bring
forth what is within you, what you bring forth
will save you. If you do not bring
forth what is within you, what you do not bring
forth will destroy you. And I thought you don’t
have to believe that. It just happens to be true. I mean, this is about finding
what you understand intuitively and deeply as truth. It’s not about incorporating
a bunch of beliefs that somebody else has articulated.>>Jon Peede: Absolutely. The southern writer Flannery
O’Conner is a similar statement that “The Life You
Save May Be Your Own”. And it comes out in
the same tradition. It is also important– one
thing I appreciate even when you hold these positions
is you have a part of the book that talks about creation
stories for example. You talk about the book of
Genesis which can be seen as having at least two
creationist stories. But rather than being dismissive
saying well that is a mythology, a full floor, you make the
point that is practical. And I would love for you to just
tell us what you mean by that.>>Elaine Pagels: Well, you
know, people like my father who grew up with
Christianity and certain kinds of churches were told that the
world was created in seven days and you take it all that way. And other people say oh
it’s just silly old stories. You know? And he
would’ve said that too. And it was when I was actually
in East Africa in the Sudan that I met a– well,
the Foreign Minister of the Sudan wrote a book
about the creation stories in his own tribe which
was the Dinka tribe. And when I read the creation
stories that he wrote, they were very practical. It’s about what men do, what
women do, it’s about why we die. It’s about the shape
of our bodies. It’s about work,
relationships within the tribe. And I went back I thought
well, that’s [inaudible]. The Genesis story is
also very practical. It talks about why we die. Talks about men and women and
gender and sort of what’s right. That’s at least as
those people saw it. And now it’s important
to understand that a particular
cultural pattern. And we don’t have to certainly
accept the values entirely, but thinking about them
is enormously exciting.>>Jon Peede: Yeah. Absolutely. And, why religion would have
been an important book– a book summing up a great
scholarly career as you talked about your personal life and
the construction of these books. But that’s– and that is in the
books– certainly in the book. But, you wrote from
a place of loss. And I knew in this interview
there would be this transition moment, of course. The loss of your young son, and then tragically your
husband a year later. And so, when you are relating
that part in your young son is in the hospital for
the open-heart surgery, you write at a point that you
sensed you were not alone. And I just wonder if you’re
comfortable talking about that.>>Elaine Pagels:
Well, it’s interesting. You know as a scholar of
religion you have to be sort of careful what you
say sometimes. And I decided that
I was going to write about what I call
experiences I can’t explain. I was actually talking with
a friend a poet Marie Howe, and Marie was brought
up in a Catholic family. Her name is Mary, of course,
and she has nine siblings. And she wrote a beautiful poem
called “Annunciation” which is about the Virgin Mary receiving
the visit and the angel Gabriel. And Gabriel appears and
there’s this beautiful poem and I said Marie, how
did you write that poem? That’s such an amazing poem. She said oh, well
it happened to me. Something like that. I had this experience of a loving presence
a divine presence. And I said, well– she said, but
of course I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t say it was
about an experience I had. And I said why not? She said that’s the last taboo. I said really? I’m going to write about that. [laughter]>>Jon Peede: Yeah.>>Elaine Pagels: I mean, that
taboo to say you have some kind of experience that you don’t
explain you don’t know how to explain but those
things happen. You know? People had experiences
that we can’t explain. I’m sure many people here have– and you know what
I’m talking about– and when I was in the
hospital as you say, and our son was exactly on his first birthday was having
open heart surgery in New York at Columbia Presbyterian. And the staff and the hospital
didn’t want parents there. This was a while
ago, 25 years ago. And so I had to sleep
on the concrete floor but I couldn’t sleep at all. And I was there by myself
at three in the morning and I had the sense that
there were other people there. And I sensed that
there was a circle. There was a circle of women and
I recognized only one of them. Somebody named Nel Morton,
she had been a professor of theology at Drew University. They were there in the
room with me, it seemed. I mean they weren’t
physically there. And I realized I could
add people to the circle. So I somehow added my brother
and my mother and my father who were in California
at the time as well. We were in New York. And I felt very peaceful
after that. Where I have been
frightened before. So the next morning when they
took our son and wheeled him off to surgery, I wrote a note to my
friend Nel, and I said you know, I had this experience last night that you were here
in the hospital. And there were these
women in a circle. And when I got home a few
days later, I had a note from Nel saying oh, on Monday
we were in a sister circle in California praying for you. I said, I didn’t– I had no idea that there was a sister
circle or that they had. So who knows what happened. I can’t explain it. I just know it happened.>>Jon Peede: Yeah.>>Elaine Pagels:
And that’s the kind of experience I’m talking about. So, I decided that I
would include those and I thought well
some people are going to think now she’s really off
the deep end, but you know? It’s just part of what
happens to people. I find that fascinating. That’s part of the
kind of experience from which religious
traditions are told. Right?>>Jon Peede: And
I think sometimes, in the humanities we think
it’s all about scholarship and we can’t put
ourselves and that it– and what I like about this is
how you weave the two together. And you re-create these
beautiful moments with your son with your husband and your lives
together– lives of the mind, joy, and fears, and anxieties– and we do a few years later
from what you’re saying get when your son does die. And you say the phrase you use after that moment is they bleed
[phonetic] you to somewhere. That’s the word you use. Do you believe in an afterlife?>>Elaine Pagels: Well, I don’t
know how to answer that quiet. Because I think when
people think about religious traditions,
they usually say do you believe in God in this, do
you believe in that? And I think belief– well I don’t know how to
put it this way quite, but sometimes I think
it’s overrated. Because we think about
beliefs because so many of us are familiar with
Christian traditions and Christian traditions in the fourth century become
sort of a set of beliefs. Right? A creed. But these traditions
are much more than that. They are about experiences
people have. They are about how as a culture,
as a society, as a people, how we make transitions
that are difficult. Like transitions for birth. Transitions to adolescents, like
a bar mitzvah– bat mitzvah.>>Jon Peede: Sure.>>Elaine Pagels:
Traditions in marriage. Traditions and death. How we– how these
traditions move us toward hope. And toward positive responses to
change which can be difficult, of course as we all know. So, they have so many other
functions than simply believing. So do I believe in an afterlife? I hope. I imagine. I can’t say I believe that, but
I don’t disbelieve it either. It’s just– it’s a different
kind of reality, it seems to me. Like so many other things,
it’s very mysterious.>>Jon Peede: And you use
that word hope in the book. Do you sit here. You allude to these
mysterious moments. What I really like out of the
carefulness of your phrasing in many parts of the book
where for example a lot of people say they turned
to religion to find meaning. You pivot that and you say for many people religion
may create meaning. I just wonder if you would mind
saying what exactly you mean by create meaning? And then we will turn
it over to the audience and if people want
to start queuing up.>>Elaine Pagels: Well, people talk about finding
meaning you know, like well, the thing– one thing
I wrote about, Jon, as you mentioned is
the death of a child. And that is one reason I wrote
about it was because it happened and because it was
a very pivotal and powerful experience
of course. But also, it’s something
of all kinds of loss, that many people who experience never talk about it
would not write about it. I couldn’t have. It was 30 years after that
happened that I wrote this. 30 years after the loss of our
son and the death of my husband which was an accident. So– — first of all, it was sort of
necessary to write about that. But second, I realized that
one of the things that happens when a child dies particularly,
is that besides the grief and the devastation
that’s involved, people often feel guilty. I mean we can feel guilty
about the kind of death. We experience especially
of anyone close to us. But if it’s a child, you as a
parent have a primary obligation to keep that child alive. And if you can’t do that
for whatever reason, and it may have nothing
to do with you. You may have done everything
you can to keep the child alive. Nevertheless feel guilty. One of my closest
friends said to me, the day after it happened,
well, if it had anything to do with you, it wouldn’t
have happened that way. I thought well, that’s
pretty obvious, but it doesn’t feel obvious. And I realize that even
our cultural traditions encourage guilt. So, I wanted to write to
other people who have had such experiences to try to
dissolve the guilt that’s on top of the other kinds of
grief that one experiences. But I was realizing
it was reinforced by our religious traditions. I was looking at
the Bible again. There’s a story about
David and Bathsheba and after King David has
Bathsheba’s husband killed in the war deliberately so he can marry the beautiful
wife before they are married, of course they become lovers
and she has an infant son. And it says the Lord smote
the child because of the sin of David and Bathsheba. So, the child died. The infant died. And the Bible says and yes why? It’s because the
parents were guilty of this sexual transgression. And so, the Bible itself teaches that these things
wouldn’t happen if you or I or anyone had not
done something wrong. And part of the study of
religion is not just to sell it or encourage it, but to
allow us to think about it to criticize it to
say yes or no. It’s not about that. It’s way beyond your control. And just to let go of the
parts of religious tradition that have shamed people
that have hurt people that have harmed people in the
way that they have been used or the way that they
were invented.>>Jon Peedle: And let’s– we
have a high life [phonetic], but I can’t see if we have
anybody to ask questions yet, so I will ask this– as you
said, after you lost your child and also your husband, and
did that make it harder to be in a church environment? You talked about those groups that maybe are outside the
standard church tradition, monasteries, other groups that
mattered at various points. If you take the point of view of
a parent who has lost a child, did you find support
groups whether religious or secular organizations
that this was essential? I just wonder if you might
reflect on how do you get through the experience
day-to-day?>>Elaine Pagles: Well,
that’s a really hard question.>>Jon Peede: Yeah, yeah.>>Elaine Pagles: Any way
you possibly can, right? Friends were enormously helpful,
and family, and people you love. That’s primary. Some people say your faith must
have been of great help you. I thought, I’ve never
felt further from faith than in a time of
horrendous grief.>>Jon Peede: Yeah.>>Elaine Pagles:
It’s– whatever faith is, it was not an experience
I had at that time at all. But the work that I
was doing in the study of religion became
also a kind of yoga. It’s a kind of way of
struggling with the questions. And when we were talking
about finding meaning, people would say, oh,
you know, you must have such deep spiritual lessons
from the death of your child, and I was just go– I
said, you think any lessons to me is worth a child’s life?>>Jon Peede: Yeah, yeah.>>Elaine Pagles: That seemed to me completely wrong
way to articulate it. Because what I realized is
that people create meaning. I don’t think we just
find it lying around. I thought about the
brilliant book by– — oh, wait a minute. The book about Auschwitz. Remind me.>>Jon Peede: Well,
there’s “Night”–>>Elaine Pagles: Pardon me? No, no. [inaudible] I’m
thinking about you know–>>Jon Peede: The
[inaudible], “Night”.>>Elaine Pagles: Viktor Frankl. Not– no. Viktor Frankl–
“Man’s Search for Meaning”. And in that book he writes
about kinds of suffering that I’ve never experienced,
and most of us haven’t. You know, inflicted by
human violence on purpose. Unbelievable suffering. He talked about the
death camps in Auschwitz. And he says, you
don’t find meaning. But you can create meaning. And he felt the one
way you can get through things you
imagine you can’t live through is by creating meaning. And that can be very
personal in different lives. In our case– the case
of my husband and myself at the time, we were devastated. So we just felt we couldn’t
live without children. And we didn’t have more
children of our own. So we adopted two children. And we thought we can’t give the
love we wish we could have given to our son to him. But we have got to do
something with this. So we adopted an infant
daughter and an infant son who are now in their 30s. Just beginning 30s. And that was a way
of finding meaning. It wasn’t– it didn’t make
our son’s death meaningful, but it allowed for
different kinds of meaning. And that’s what I mean
by creating meaning. So for example, mothers
who lose a child to a drunk driver have created– you know, Mothers
Against Drunk Driving. People whose children have died through gunshot have been
fighting then violence in this country. That’s how people find meaning. And that’s how they– that’s
what I mean by creating meaning. To sort of– we do that. And our religious traditions
are part of the way to do that.>>Jon Peede: Yeah. So, we’ll take a question here
and then we will return here.>>Elaine Pagles: Yeah.>>Jon Peede: So–>>Unknown Speaker: Hi. One of the things that drives
your work is the whole mystery of religion.>>Elaine Pagles: Yes.>>Unknown Speaker: Now, if
God exists, it wouldn’t be that difficult for God to
demonstrate the answers to so many questions
and resolve the mystery. Would you personally like–
prefer that to happen? Or go live the rest of your
life with all the mystery?>>Elaine Pagles: Well,
I’ve never had that option. [laughter] So, I’ve never
really thought of it that way. So for what I said,
you know, I don’t– I do history and it’s
not counterfactual. So I say hey, we live with
these mysteries, right? And I kind of love
them– that fact. Would I like to understand them? Sure. But I don’t
see– I don’t think that our brains are
quite equipped for that. Except our experiences
can somehow make us aware of ministry in a
way that is joyful. Thank you for that
interesting question.>>Jon Peede: Yes.>>Unknown Speaker: I find
it very helpful to listen to the way you talk about
religion and the traditions of religion as a lifelong
Catholic I been in I guess for the last 20 years
really struggling with how I can continue
in religion. There’s so many things
that I used to believe and don’t believe. I find myself standing in
church every Sunday thinking [inaudible] I don’t
believe that. No, I don’t believe that. But I also you know
want to continue. And it seems to me or at least
this is my question to you. Are there places that we can go
for more progressive analysis and examinations
and interpretations of religion or scripture
that would help someone who is you not my level still
hanging on but just by a thread?>>Elaine Pagles: I think
that’s a great question. And it’s been my question, too. I mean I realize
that there’s a lot of things I can’t say I believe. I mean in the way that you know, in the way that the
Nicene people who created the Nicene
Creed intended or claimed that they all believed. But I do love these traditions. So when people say
are you religious? I say oh, yes. Encourage a bleed religious. I love the music. I love the worship. The sense of prayer. I was brought up
Protestant but I spent time in a Catholic monastery in
Colorado with Trappist monks who have a deep sense
of spirituality. They never asked me
if I was a Catholic. They knew I wasn’t. They knew I was a heretic. But they were such presences as
spiritual people that they speak of contemplative prayer. It was Thomas Keating at the
monastery in Snowmass was one of my teachers and he
taught contemplative prayer. And he didn’t bother with
do you believe in this or that anywhere near as much as he had the sense
of a spiritual path. So, you know, the
original meaning of the Christian tradition
they called it the way. That’s what it’s called in Greek
in the New Testament, the way. So it’s not an end. It’s a path. And I look at it that way. And what I do is what
you are talking about. Is explore the history
of tradition. Think about it, explore it. Because I think– I don’t
think you can swallow all of Christianity. It’s 2000 years of tradition. It’s indigestible. There’s so much of it. There’s so many kinds. Are you going to be– if you
are Catholic, liberal Catholic? Conservative Catholic? I mean there’s choices
you have to make. Or you can be a Christian
scientist or Baptist or Pentecostal or
Episcopalian or Methodist. I mean Russian Orthodox. There’s so many ways. So many ways to do that. And I think each one of us
for me at least, I’m the kind of person who has
to keep seeking. So I think it’s a way. It’s a path. It’s not an arrival for me. And it’s something
we can keep doing. But in the church that I
go to when I go to church– it just happens to be
an Episcopal Church. I have to say yes and no to it. Because there’s a lot
about Christian tradition but as I said I think
damages people. Some of the attitudes about
sexuality that are tradition in the church for example can
be very damaging to people who aren’t conforming to you
know thousands of years ago ways of perceiving gender
for example. So, I think there are
things to which each one of us might say yes and no. And some people say will
that’s just self-indulgent. That’s cafeteria Christianity. And I said no, this is a path. And I think it’s a great one. So, I go and worship and listen to the music and
love the liturgy. I don’t think you
have to believe it all to love those traditions
and love some of them more than others.>>Unknown Speaker: Thank you.>>Elaine Pagles: Thank
you for raising that. I think it’s a very
important question. [ Applause ]>>Jon Peede: Yes?>>Unknown Speaker:
First of all, thank you so much
for being here. I can’t believe we get
the honor of your time. My question is so, you explained
throughout your presentation the value in considering these
additional religious texts and sources that in many
cases present may be a more complicated picture of Jesus but also more accessible
in many ways. And I agree with that. But in my opinion, that sort
of like the advanced course. That’s like for people who are
basically religiously literate they can consider
something else. And for most people
in my generation, they don’t even know
the canonically accepted conventional Bible stories.>>Elaine Pagles: Yes.>>Unknown Speaker:
And what I observed is that in these moments
of important transition as you commented in society like
at marriages and like at death, we don’t have a shared
vocabulary of and of values. And in many cases,
it’s appropriate that we are not using
exclusively Christian language in those settings because they
are multicultural celebrations. And that’s great. But I’m wondering what your–
well, it’s a two-part question– what your observation
is in terms of where we are deriving
our socially shared values from today if it’s not from
conventional religious texts? I observe it in sports and
brands, and that scares me because those are kind of shallow consumerist
forms of value. And then two, if you have
any advice for people in society today who feel
that lacking of socially held and shared values of where
they can get it if it’s not in a religion that they
share with those around them.>>Elaine Pagles: That’s a
really important question, and I think it’s true. If you look at say
the New Testament, the values that I realized I
care deeply about are those that are articulated in
relationship to other people. That is, you know
loving your neighbor, do you care for people in need. These are very fundamental. And if you look at a sports team
you see it’s about sharing it’s about working together,
cooperating, collaborating, caring for each other. I mean I think those
values emerge there too. So, for some people they come
in the form of Jewish tradition, Muslim tradition, Hindu
tradition or Christian. They don’t have to
come in that form. Sometimes we can actually
create our own rituals. And I’ve done that, too. I sort of add them
to the others. What I like about the
secret traditions is that they show us
some of what’s lacking in traditional say
Christian tradition. One of them is the presence
of women among the apostles. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
shows us completely different perspectives in the early
Christian movement about women that just aren’t part of
the ordinary tradition. But people find them
within traditions and some of them don’t. You raise a very
important question. Do you have ways of creating
rituals or meaning like that?>>Unknown Speaker: No. I just obsessively
asked everyone I meet where they get [laughter] their
extensive meaning from in life and the question makes
most people uncomfortable. So I wait until it’s
somebody’s job.>>Elaine Pagles: I
love the question. And that’s one reason I study
the history of religion. Because it shows you different
ways that people have done that. This euros teaching
with a colleague. His specialty is
Tibetan Buddhism. So we call that Jesus
and Buddha. We had hundreds of students
in our Princeton course. I was talking about Jesus and
he was talking about Buddha and we are talking about
what each culture understands as its fundamental values. And that’s quite exciting. You know? Because
Buddhist traditions have different qualities. They have cultural traditions. They have views of death and
life and you know the meaning of particular events
that is quite different. So I find exploring
those traditions is a way of finding ways that
people do that. So I would encourage
you to explore some of the history of
these traditions. Because one of the questions when I was writing this book
I kept saying to myself, not just why religion, that’s
a programmatic question of my entire work. But is it– why is
religion still around in the 21st-century? I was told it was
going to die out. I mean there would be no use for religion beyond
the 20th century. It hasn’t quite died out. And the question is why not? And I think because it
embodies and carries and articulates values that
deeply matter to people. So exploring those can
be a way of dealing with the question that you ask. And it’s a really
important question.>>Unknown Speaker: Thank you.>>Elaine Pagles: Thank you.>>Jon Peede: So I
think we only have time for one more question or– those standing which we can
have a short question please?>>Unknown Speaker:
Thank you, yes. I thank you very much
for writing the book which must have obviously
been quite painful for you a lot of the times. Toward the end of the book,
it becomes painfully obvious to the reader that it’s not
a how-to book, unfortunately. And but I was very much put
in mind in maybe the last 40-50 pages of mysticism. And this being one
of the obvious paths that what I would have
drawn from your experience and I’m just wondering
whether that as a topic that you have explored
either academically or spiritually or in other ways?>>Elaine Pagles:
You said mysticism?>>Unknown Speaker:
mysticism, yeah.>>Elaine Pagles: Yes,
because text that I– that we stumbled on in graduate
school are obviously texts that speak about
experiential events. The Gospel of Thomas is about bringing forth
what’s within you. It’s about what we experience. And it’s very close to Kabbalah
which is the Jewish tradition of mysticism which
are only written down about 1000 to
1500 years later. Because Jewish teachers
resisted talking about deeper advanced
level mystical experience. But yes. They do go into
those kinds of experiences. And yes. I think that’s where
this kind of work leads. Some people say what you said
the book is about why religion but you don’t answer
the question. And I wanted to say no. I don’t answer the question. But that symptomatic
question for me. It’s an exploration that
I am still investigating. [ Applause ]>>Jon Peede: So, I’d be remiss if I didn’t raise the
final sentence of the book.>>Elaine Pagles: Oh.>>Jon Peede: You say,
“Hearts sometimes heal.”>>Elaine Pagles: Yes. Well, you know, when
I wrote this book it’s about the work I do. It’s about why I do
it, why I love it. We’ve been talking about that. But I also had to write
about experiences that I had to put behind me because
they were overwhelming. The death of our son
which through an illness and then the sudden death of my husband we had
been married 22 years. I was devastated. And we just adopted
two children. I cannot imagine surviving that. And so I had to put
those experiences out of my consciousness
in a way. And they weren’t, but it felt
like a black hole in space. You know where you just–
where there’s nothing. You just get swept in a
vortex and you don’t come out. So I couldn’t go there. And you know when you have those
experiences years later they don’t go away they
are still there. So, when the children
were out of the house and I have more space
and time to think, those experiences come
back and then you– it seemed to me I needed
to engage them in order to fully experience my life. And so the book is partly
about those griefs but it’s about much more than that because I didn’t want
to write about grief. Everybody here knows
about grief. I didn’t want to
write a grief memoir. What I wanted to write about
then it was not only the joy of the work I do,
but the surprise. And I know many of
you know this. The surprise that you can live through things you think
you can’t live through. You think you could ever
survive and find joy again. And that’s not true. I think it’s amazing to be alive
and have an experience of joy. Being here and writing
the book places it in a certain perspective. And communicating with so many
people here is another form of that joy. So thank you, very much. [ Applause ]>>Jon Peede: Thank you. Thank you for the
joy you brought us. And thank you for reminding
us that the complexity can go into the shaping of joy. That the mind is not
separate from joy. So, and we thank you for
the body of your work across a distinguished career. Please join me in
thanking Elaine Pagles. [ Applause ]

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