Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
The educator and historian of religion Elaine Pagels (PAY-guhls) is the daughter of William McKinley Hiesey, a research plant biologist, and Louise Sophia Van Druten. To the astonishment of her politically liberal, Protestant nonchurchgoing parents, she joined an evangelical church at the age of thirteen; she abandoned it a year later when she found it separated her from the people she loved. As an undergraduate at Stanford University, she was attracted to the study of Greek, the language of the New Testament, and she read Homer and Pindar and became fascinated with the way Christianity became the symbolic focus for millions of people over the course of a few thousand years. She received her B.A. from Stanford in 1964 and her M.A. from the same school in 1965. After a brief time studying modern dance at the Martha Graham studio in New York City, Pagels entered the doctoral program in the department of religion at Harvard University in a program in the history of religion directed by Krister Stendahl. She believed that religion would hold her attention for a lifetime because it involved politics, art, history, anthropology, imagination, and fantasy. She hoped to uncover a “real Christianity” unpolluted by history or ideology through objective scholarship. Her professors at Harvard introduced her to the Gnostic codices that had been discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi, Egypt. These fifty-two early Christian alternative texts were written about 600
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Elaine Pagels's career as an academic interested in religion has been highlighted by numerous publications and awards. An Episcopalian, Pagels was born on February 13, 1943, in Palo Alto, California, to William McKinley, a research biologist, and Louise Sophia van Druten Hiesey. She received her bachelor's degree in 1964 and a master's degree in 1965, both from Stanford University. Harvard University awarded her a doctorate in 1970. In 1969, Pagels married Heinz Pagels, a theoretical physicist who died nine years later. They had three children together, one of whom died in 1987. In 1995, she married Kent Greenwalt, a law professor.
After receiving her doctorate, Pagels began teaching at Barnard College and Columbia University. Later, she served as a professor of religion and department head at Princeton University, where she is currently the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion. In 1978, she was part of an international team of scholars involved in studying and translating the Nag Hammadi texts, a collection of ancient Gnostic and other documents found in Egypt in 1945, for the publication The Nag Hammadi Library in English. This work informed the writing of her third book, The Gnostic Gospels, an effort to make the complicated religious texts more accessible to a wider audience.
The 1979 publication of The Gnostic Gospels received varying responses from critics and scholars. Many objected to her proposition that...
(The entire section is 314 words.)