English 233:  Introduction to Western Humanities ­-Baroque and Enlightenment

Extra credit Option on

The Impact of the Enlightenment on Modern Biblical Scholarship:

Elaine Pagels on Augustine's concept of nature

[Note:  Students who write more than once on this extra-credit assignment are allowed to do up to two of the topics ­ A, B, C, D, etc., though it is not permitted to do both subtopics under Topic D.]

Elaine Pagels (b. 1943) is a student of early Christian communities who first made her mark in the academic world with her studies of the "gnostic gospels," a collection of ancient papyrus texts discovered by a peasant in a cave in Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945.  Her special focus came to be on the relations between religion and politics during the first 4 centuries of the Christian era (c.  AD 30-430).  In addition to her prolific output in the scholarly journals, she has published a series of highly regarded expositions of her views for lay audiences:  Most famous among these are The Gnostic Gospels (1979) and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (1988), a study of early Christian controversies over the issues of sex, gender, marriage, and politics ­ controversies that exhibit a lively variation among positions and outlooks but that shared a common point of reference in the Genesis account of the Creation and Fall of the First Parents.  Different positions arose and flourished or were banished to the margins at different times between the era of Jesus and the death of St. Augustine, and Pagels' interest focuses on the larger social factors that may have disposed adherents of different tendencies to find these to be speaking convincingly to their personal experiences, and which may help explain why one particular position, that of Augustine, finally succeeded in imposing itself as the only orthodox one, with immense ramifications for Western societies down to our own day.

This is a fascinating book throughout, and students who have completed any one of the courses in the Western Humanities sequence are equipped to read it with enjoyment and insight.  Partly as a sample to entice you to acquire the complete work from the library or bookstore, and partly because the subject of her final chapter raises issues that emerge again during 17th-century controversies we have been studying, I have focused this assignment on her final chapter, "The Nature of Nature."  (As it happens, you'll also get an example of the way I go about annotating my own books.)  I've also provided Pagels' "Epilogue," in which she discusses the distinction and relationship between "historical investigation" and "religious inquiry," which is one of the most striking legacies of the Enlightenment period. 

You may acquire copies of these from the Arts & Sciences Copy Center (Eisenhower 11.)

The choice of topics.  Study carefully these excerpts from Pagels' book (i.e., both Chapter VI and the Epilogue).  Then write a well-organized single-spaced page (standard margins, 12-point type or 10 cpi) ­ this is of course meant to be a rough guide ­ in which you do one of the following tasks.

  Return to the general instructions on Extra-Credit Assignments.

  Go to the Home Page of the course.

  Suggestions, comments and questions are welcome.  Please send them to lyman@ksu.edu .

      Contents copyright © 2001 by Lyman A. Baker

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      This page last updated 09 December 2001 .