All posts tagged Explanation

  • ‘Other’ Pilgrimages

    As someone who is researching pilgrimage practices, I am predisposed to paying attention to how, when and why the term is used. This ranges from everyday conversations to newspaper articles to twitter hashtags (#pilgrimage). It becomes quickly evident that the term is evoked in numerous and different ways beyond its original religious meanings, with all manner of journeys being referred to as pilgrimages.

    An earlier post discussing the characteristics of pilgrimage, highlighted the roles of movement, place, meaning, transformation and embodiment in defining the activity. That piece was particularly focused on traditional spiritual-religious pilgrimage, although references were made to different types of pilgrimage, such as cultural, nationalistic or personal ones. Here, I wish to tease out some of these ideas in more detail.

    Nakamise Street Sensoji Asakusa Taito-ku Tokyo JapanPilgrims and tourists have flocked to the Sensoji (a Buddhist temple) in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo for centuries, shopping for souvenirs at shops on this crowded street.  Source:

    Nakamise Street Sensoji Asakusa Taito-ku Tokyo. Pilgrims and tourists have flocked to the Sensoji (a Buddhist temple) for centuries, with many shopping for souvenirs at shops. Source:

    A point which is frequently made concerns the closeness and blurring between pilgrimage and tourism, particularly heritage or spiritual based tourism. It is apparent that not everyone who visits religious pilgrimage sites is a believer, and simultaneously not all pilgrims endure to traditional arduous and challenging aspects of pilgrimage. With increased personal mobility in parts of the world, the lines between tourist and pilgrim are not as clear cut as they were once conceived as being; indeed, it was probably a fallacy to think of them as ever being entirely discrete.

    The nature and structures of different places, and the practices performed there, equally illustrate the complex and fluid nature of pilgrimage. Both in terms of manifestations and practices, religious sites and secular/popular locations have shared elements, some of which are more typically only attributed to one or other. Major pilgrimage sites have all the facilities and services associated with tourist destinations, while secular places, such as Graceland or the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, feature practices with religious connotations  including processions and the leaving of small objects.

    Indigenous or ancient sites also play a role in these discussions, as they are sites that are visited by not only tourists, but also ‘New Age’ groups or others in search of spirituality. Stonehenge and Machu Picchu, and other similar locations, are seen as being spiritual, non-modern places, and therefore attract those seeking otherworldly experiences as much as tourists. These places can be seen to occupy a curious middle-ground between the established religious locations and the tourist destinations.

    Machu Picchu: houses in the Western Urban Sector, Sacred Square. Source: Issued under  the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Spain license.

    Machu Picchu: houses in the Western Urban Sector, Sacred Square. Source: Issued under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Spain license.

    The most significant factor in all of this lies in the idea of fluidity and a willingness to applying the characteristics of pilgrimages to all manner of journeys. In conceiving and treating of pilgrimage and other journeys an openness to individual and group motivations and experiences need to be a guiding idea, so we can gain a better and more accurate understanding of these human behaviours.




    Suggested Reading: 

    Campo, J.E., 1998. American Pilgrimage Landscapes. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 558, pp.40-56.

    Ivakhiv, A. 2003. Nature and Self in New Age Pilgrimage. Culture and Religion, 4 (1), pp.93-118.

    Plate, S.B., 2009. The Varieties of Contemporary Pilgrimage. Cross Currents, 59(3), pp.260–267.

    Reader, I. & Walter T. eds, 1993. Pilgrimage in Popular Culture. Hampshire: Macmillan.


  • Mobilities

    I have an interest in the study of mobility. The concept of mobility is a broad approach that incorporates movement, motion, flow, transition, fluidity and much more. It centres on an appreciation of movement, as a thing worthy of study in-and-of-itself, but also as a force that shapes, influences and adds meaning to the world around us.

    In academic-speak, my interest can be located in the ‘mobilities turn’ or the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ within the social sciences. The paradigm is a response to a world that is seen as being increasingly mobile. It includes a wide range of topics, from corporeal movement to mass migration, from transportation systems to tourism, and from cycling to communication technologies. Examples of mobilities research include, leisure walking, cycling to work, commuting, the increase in international students, immigration experiences and systems at European airports, the carbon-foot print and food miles of the components of our daily diet and the role of truly mobile computing and communication devices.  Furthermore, it acknowledges a greater role for approaches that centre on activity, performance and participation.

    The immobile and questions of the creation and treatment of immobility are raised in considerations of mobilities. By highlighting the importance of movement and flow, the role and consequences of barriers and frictions are equally emphasised. In many cases, these concerns raise some of the most profound and significant questions for study in the area. Questions concerning who is free to live a mobile life, and who isn’t; or, how can some materials and ideas can spread or be halted.

    However, if should also be noted that, as always, there are caveats and criticisms of the paradigm. It is relatively loosely defined (perhaps, intentionally so). On initial reading, the area can be seen to encompass all aspects of modern life and a globalised world! Also, as an emerging idea, its core concerns and approaches are still to be fully and clearly developed. The paradigm or turn needs to have an accepted body of abstract thought and a general outlook which will act as the foundation for research. In addition, mobilities literature needs to successfully incorporate differing and older perspectives if it is to gain widespread purchase.

    The key strength of the mobilities approach is its challenge to the social sciences to broaden its inquiries and the methodologies to adequately include movement, mobility and fluidity at all scales. This opens up a rich arena of study, which, when supported by the developments of work on the paradigm, will hopefully produce a rich body of scholarship that will enrich our insights into the world around us.

    Suggested reading:

    Adey, P. 2009. Mobility. London: Routledge.

    Cresswell, T., 2006. On The Move. London: Routledge.

    Hannam, K., Sheller, M. and Urry, J. 2006. Mobilities, immobilities and moorings. Mobilities, 1 (1), 1–22.

    Sheller, M., 2011. Mobility. Sociopedia.isa 1–12.

    Suggested sites: 

    mCenter, Drexel University’s Center for Mobilities Research and Policy

    Cosmobilities Network, linking research into mobilities

  • Characteristics of Pilgrimage

    Pilgrimage is one of the oldest and most widespread forms of human activity there is. Not along is pilgrimage practised in all major world religions - Buddhism, Christianity (particularly Catholicism), Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism (although, it is a disputed practice) – but it has also been a feature of all known major religions and cults in the past.

    Furthermore, pilgrimage is now seen as having moved beyond religious definitions with the emergence of different types of pilgrimage, such as those centred on the cultural sphere (e.g. Graceland or Disneyland), on nationalism (e.g. monuments, graves, battlefields) or on personal motivations (visiting or returning an important place, or a migrant coming home).

    Pilgrimage, despite its prominence and changing-nature, can be seen to have a number of key characteristics that define it and differentiate from other forms of human behaviour. While these elements maybe found in other activities, it is their combination that make pilgrimage so unique.


    Movement: Pilgrimage is a performed activity that is traditionally associated with a long-distance journey and different rituals. As a phenomenon, it is basically about physical movement. Pilgrims travel to a certain place. In this setting, the journey is considered to be an important part, if not the most important part. For example, thousands of pilgrims annually trek across the Camino of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, with the journey being seen as the defining element.

    Place: The sites and routes of pilgrimage are all located somewhere. Pilgrimage is inherently spatial. There is a particular place that is the destination; frequently, there are particular routes one must follow; and, there are stations of prayer and ritual. Specific places are considered to be holy, that is, they are different from normal places and are worthy of being visited. The sacred nature of the location is usually due to some supernatural event, such as a the presence of a deity or a divine/holy figure, or an apparition or a miracle. Mecca or Guadalupe, Mexico, for example, are treated differently to other places, they are distinct and special.

    Meaning:  There is a deep motivation and understanding at the core of pilgrim. It involves the belief in something and the search for an authentic, meaningful experience. Traditionally, religious or spiritual pilgrims were motivated by desires to encounter the divine, to do penance for transgressions or to gain some spiritual or corporal favour. Hindus bath in the waters of the Ganges river in Northern India to wash away their sins. Motivation or meaning also define secular pilgrimage. Those journeying to the war graves or battlefields of WWI or to Graceland are equally inspired by a belief in something.

    Transformation: A transformative or otherwise significant experience is part of pilgrimage. People travel to encounter something outside of their ordinary lives. The journey and the challenges associated with it are designed to prepare you for the main site. On returning from pilgrimage, the pilgrim is supposed to be spiritual renewed, essentially returning as a new person who has been transformed through their experience.

    Embodiment: Pilgrimages are very physical and corporeal things. They centre on bodies. They involve long journeys and complex rituals. Pilgrims walk long-distances, they pray in certain ways, they fast or eat prescribed foods, they wear certain clothing, they bath. When pilgrims cannot engage in the general activities, frequently due to illness or age, an extra significance is attached, as pilgrimage sites are often visited by people who are unwell and they are given a special place in proceedings – for example, in Lourdes, France

    Suggested Reading:

    Stoddard, R.H. and Morinis, A. (eds.) Sacred Places, Sacred Spaces: The Geography of Pilgrimages. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, pp. 1-24.

    Nolan, M.L., Nolan, S., 1992. Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe. University of North Carolina Press.

    Reader & T. Walter, eds. Pilgrimage in Popular Culture. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, pp. 29–62.

    Coleman, S. & Elsner, J., 1995. Pilgrimage : past and present in the world religions, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.