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The Power of Stories That Shape Us

Elaine Pagels + Dani Shapiro, moderated by Elizabeth Lesser

Friday, February 1, 2019
7:00 PM–8:30 PM
Sold Out

This program will be livestreamed on our Facebook page.

Stories have a profound impact on our identity—both the stories we receive from family and culture, and the stories we create ourselves. With these narratives, we literally “make sense” of our lives.

Elaine Pagels is one of the most compelling religious thinkers at work today. In her new book, Why Religion?, she tells the story about the death of her young son followed a year later by the shocking loss of her husband. Her personal story is the perennial human story—how each of us navigates the losses and challenges we face over a lifetime. Why Religion? is also an investigation into the religious traditions that for better and for worse have shaped our identity—gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, power—and how that identity shapes our lives.

Dani Shapiro, one of America’s most beloved authors and memoirists, was shaped by her Orthodox Jewish upbringing. In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, she received the stunning news that the father who raised her was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her. This is the story she tells in her new book, Inheritance.

During the evening we examine these questions:

  • What is the power of stories to consciously and unconsciously shape us—family stories, cultural stories, religious stories?
  • What about the power of our relationships and a sense of belonging to family, tribe, culture? What happens when connections are sundered? How does it change us?
  • What combination of memory, history, biology, experience, and that ineffable thing called the soul defines us?



About the Speakers

Photo by Barbara Conviser

Elaine Pagels is a preeminent academic whose impressive scholarship has earned her international respect. The Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, Pagels was awarded the Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and MacArthur Fellowships in three consecutive years. She is the author of The Gnostic Gospels, Beyond Belief, and Revelations. Her latest book is Why Religion?: A Personal Story, published by HarperCollins this November.

Photo by Kwaku Alston

Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of the memoirs Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion, and five novels including Black & White and Family History. Her new memoir Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love is published by Knopf January 2019. She has taught in the writing programs at Columbia, NYU, the New School, and Wesleyan University; she is cofounder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy. A contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler, Dani lives with her family in Litchfield County, Connecticut. This is her second appearance at the Rubin. Her first focused on her recent memoir of a marriage: Hourglass.

Elizabeth Lesser is a bestselling author and the cofounder of Omega Institute, the renowned conference and retreat center located in Rhinebeck, New York. Lesser’s first book, The Seeker’s Guide, chronicles her years at Omega and distills lessons learned into a potent guide for growth and healing. Her New York Times bestselling book Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow (Random House) has sold more than 300,000 copies and has been translated into 20 languages. Her latest book, Marrow: A Love Story (HarperCollins), is a memoir about Lesser and her younger sister, Maggie, and the process they went through when Elizabeth was the donor for Maggie’s bone marrow transplant. This is her third appearance at the Rubin. She was last on stage here with Krista Tippett in 2016 in a series on wisdom.


This program is now SOLD OUT.

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Tickets: $62.00 + choice of book

Member Tickets: $49.60 + choice of book

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Ticket includes choice of one book:

  • Why Religion? A Personal Story—Elaine Pagels
  • Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love—Dani Shapiro