MacArthur Fellows Program

Elaine H. Pagels

Historian of Religion | Class of December 1981

Historian of Religion
New York, New York
38 at time of award
Published December 1, 1981

About Elaine's Work

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.

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