MacArthur Fellows Program

Elaine H. Pagels

Historian of Religion | Class of December 1981

Title
Historian of Religion
Location
New York, New York
Age
38 at time of award

Elaine Pagels is a historian of religion, with a focus on the origins of Christianity.

Her research centers on the history of hermeneutics, specifically on how controversies over scriptural interpretation relate to certain social and political situations.  She draws primarily upon Greek and Latin sources, as well as upon Coptic Gnostic texts discovered in Egypt in 1945.  In The Gnostic Gospels (1979), Pagels envisions what Christianity might have become if Gnostic texts had been incorporated into the early-Christian canon.  This work also examines the ways that women have been viewed in Christian history.  Her book, The Origin of Satan (1995), explores the emergence of the figure of Satan in Jewish and early-Christian literature, as this relates to social reality and social conflict.  Her other books include The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis (1973), Paul the Gnostic: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters (1975), Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (1988), and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2004).

Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University.  She taught previously at Columbia University.

Pagels received a B.A. (1964) and an M.A. (1965) from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. (1970) from Harvard University.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

News About This Fellow
March 13, 2018
A Conversation with Elaine Pagels, Early MacArthur Fellowship Recipient
Elaine Pagels was a 38-year-old assistant professor at Barnard College when she received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, the first year of the program. Pagels is a historian of religion, with a focus on the origins ...
September 3, 2012
“Elaine Pagels on the Book of Revelation”
PBS
Elaine H. Pagels , 1981 MacArthur Fellow
April 7, 2007
“Elaine Pagels”
The Colbert Report
Elaine H. Pagels , 1981 MacArthur Fellow
View all news
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