Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Tag: Victor Turner

43. Simon Coleman, “Do You Believe in Pilgrimage?: Communitas, Contestation and Beyond”

do you believe in pilgrimage

“Do You Believe in Pilgrimage?: Communitas, Contestation, and Beyond,” by Simon Coleman–another in the bunch Matthew Anderson sent my way–presents an intellectual rapprochement between two texts on pilgrimage that are typically considered to be completely at odds with each other: Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, a 1978 study by Victor and Edith Turner; and Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage, a 1991 anthology of essays edited by John Eade and Michael Sallnow. I’ve read neither of these works–I’m waiting by the mailbox for them to arrive–and that’s unfortunate, because they are clearly the most important works on pilgrimage, given the way that every scholar seems to refer back to them, and because when I finally do get a chance to dig into them, I’m going to be influenced by Coleman’s powerful argument.

Coleman begins with the Turners, particularly their notion of communitas as a theoretical construct which “described the individual pilgrim’s temporary transition away from mundane structures and social interdependence into a looser commonality of feeling with fellow visitors” (355). That idea, he writes, “clearly drew on metaphors of liminality within rites of passage,” which it also was “the result of voluntary rather than societally enforced removal from the everyday world” (355-56). There have been many critiques of the Turners (356-57), but the most powerful has been the challenge Eade and Sallnow made “to the anti-structure hypothesis” of the Turners, and the “new, general approach to the anthropological study of (Christian) pilgrimage” articulated by Eade and Sallnow. The critique Eade and Sallnow made of the notion of communitas was powerful: communitas “failed to take account of the mundane conflicts inherent in pilgrimage” (357). Eade and Sallnow saw communitas “as just one idealizing discourse about pilgrimage rather than an empirical description of it” (357). Pilgrimage, in their conception, is “a capacious arena capable of accommodating many competing religious and secular discourses” (357). In addition, it’s important to examine “historically and culturally specific instances” of pilgrimage rather than trying to understand it “as a universal or homogenous phenomenon” (357). “The Turnerian image of pilgrimage appears to have been shattered” by the anthology Eade and Sallnow edited, Coleman writes, but he continues, “in this article I want to suggest that we run the risk of devaluing the work of both the Turners and Eade and Sallnow in viewing our theoretical options in this way”–that is, as a contrast between communitas and “contestation” (357).

Coleman’s paper has three goals. First, he intends “to assess briefly why there has been a recent efflorescence of anthropological studies of pilgrimage” (357). Second, he wants “to demonstrate that the arguments of Image and Pilgrimage and of Contesting the Sacred are in certain respects not all that far apart”–indeed, he hopes “to show that they reveal some striking theoretical similarities, once a nuanced view of their respective approaches is taken” (357-58). Finally, he seeks “to consider some of the future directions for an anthropology of pilgrimage” (358).

So, why has there been an increase in studies of pilgrimage? One reason is that both pilgrimage and tourism “have become metaphors for a world on the move” (358). Coleman notes that James Clifford, to take one example, argues that “the notion of pilgrimage is of particular use as a comparative term in contemporary ethnographic writing since (despite its sacred associations) it includes a broad range of western and non-western experience and is less class- and gender-based than ‘travel'” (358). Clifford’s use of “pilgrimage,” Coleman continues, “relates to a broader project of exploring how practices of displacement are not incidental to, but actually constitutive of, cultural meanings in a world that is constantly ‘en route,’ made up not of autonomous socio-cultural wholes but complex, interactive conjunctures” (358).

Next, Coleman thinks through the nuances of the communitas and “contestation” paradigms. He notes that the examples Eade and Sallnow present suggest that “the degree of overt conflict at any given site may vary” (359). “Just as the Turnerian argument about communitas was rejected by scholars who went looking for it and could not find it in a way that they found ethnographically convincing,” he writes, “so the contestation paradigm could potentially be challenged by a simplistic reading that looks for it at a given site and instead finds a predominance of apparent harmony” (359). “In my view,” he states, “it is far more useful to regard contestation as an umbrella-term for multiple if shared orientations, and then to start refining its meaning” (359). For example, the various Jerusalems “criss-crossed by Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant evangelical Christians” suggests sometimes contention for “ideological hegemony,” but also sometimes it suggests an agreement to “simply look (and walk) past each other in embodied confirmation of discrepant imaginaries which have been pre-formed at home” (359). Sometimes, he continues, “individuals or groups take account of but do not necessarily specifically interact with each other” (359). “It becomes possible,” then, “to see how the juxtaposition of varied interpretations and practices need not be regarded as, by definition, reflecting overt struggles for hegemony in restricted cultural and geographical space” (359). Chapters in Eade and Sallnow “emphasize conflict and discrepancy at the shrine-level,” Coleman notes, “but retain the right to depict coherent, shared structures of meaning within specific communities of interpretation” (360). At the same time, their book also suggests “the possibility of a kind of communitas within contestation, or more accurately the existence of (relative) fixities of meaning that correlate with socially discrete units” (360).

“Just as contestation is more complex than it might at first appear,” Coleman continues, “so the apparent whole deconstruction of universalist narratives”–a reference to the Turners–“deserves to be examined more closely” (360). “[D]espite their deconstructive tendencies,” Coleman writes, “Eade and Sallnow do depict pilgrimage shrines as having a kind of ‘essential’ character and function: precisely that of containing and objectifying multiple discourses. Perhaps other institutions do this as well, but we are given to assume that major shrines must do so” (360). Eade and Sallnow’s work needs to be read carefully, Coleman argues, “rather than plundered by those looking for an off-the-shelf, easy-to-use theoretical tool with which to ‘analyse’ pilgrimage” (361). But the same is true of the Turners’ work; it is “more complex, and in my view richer, than it is sometimes given credit for,” Coleman contends (361). Communitas, for example, is “a multi-faceted paradigm, with the ideal and spontaneous manifestation of ‘existential’ communitas usually going way to ‘normative,’ systematized forms at particular shrines” (361). Communitas is also easily compromised by social structure, “with its associated divisions and pragmatic accommodations” (361).

In fact, Coleman suggests, there are important similarities between the Turners and Eade and Sallnow: “The idea of a shrine accommodating a multiplicity of discourses is not so far from the Turnerian notion that dominant symbols contain within them a fan of meanings” (361). In addition, both are aware of “the possibilities of dynamic tension between official and lay or popular views” (361). Both use similar dominant theoretical metaphors as well (361). “[W]e do the authors and ourselves a disservice if we see their work as one-dimensional and entirely mutually antagonistic,” Coleman claims. “Neither communitas nor contestation should themselves be fetishized in order to produce neatly symmetrical anthropological theory, made up of views that appear to constitute a simply binary opposition” (361).

“So does pilgrimage remain a useful analytical concept?” Coleman asks. He notes that there has been a lot of ethnographical work done on a variety of different pilgrimages, and that there are many different definitions of the the term “pilgrimage” that have been generated as a result. However, Coleman continues,

It seems to me that it is important that people continue to try to define what they mean by ‘pilgrimage,’ but I am not convinced that the content of any single definition matters very much. I mean here that we should always be made aware of what a given author thinks he or she is talking about , but should not assume that over time we shall collectively achieve an ever more precise and universally applicable set of criteria with which finally to pin down ‘the’ activity of pilgrimage. (362)

The idea of pilgrimage has changed over time, for example, “as systems of transport, articulations of spirituality, secular ideologies, forms of syncretism and so on are transformed” (362). Scholars should be aware that they “are always performing a definitional balancing act, that we are suggesting comparisons that can never be seen as all-encompassing or as emerging ‘naturally’ from the data” (363). In addition, Coleman writes, it’s important

that we do not fall into the trap of confining our work to a pilgrimage ghetto, a theoretical cul-de-sac where it is assumed that the only relevant points of debate relate to other studies that purport to focus on pilgrimage. . . . Sacred travel frequently overlaps with tourism, trade, migration, expressions of nationalism, creations of diasporas, imagining communities . . . this list could go on, too. The point is that we must not adopt the rather western habit of treating the category of religion, and everything associated with it, as ideally an autonomous, isolated realm of human activity, and therefore as an autonomous, isolated realm of anthropological theorizing. (363)

One topic he omits from this list is art. Can pilgrimage overlap with forms of art or performance? Possibly. Why not?

“Why should we assume that pilgrimage must be ‘about’ any one thing, whether it be heightened conflict or the heightened absence of it?” Coleman asks.

The logic of my argument leads me to conclude that the most valuable work in this area is that which looks outward, making points about human behaviour through using ‘pilgrimage’ as a case-study rather than focussing on the institution itself as a firmly bounded category of action. (363)

He cites examples of work on pilgrimage that can stimulate our intellectual imaginations, and concludes,

Pilgrimage as a religious activity still provides meaningful places for people to visit, while as (fuzzy) object of academic discourse it continues to offer significant room for anthropological theorizing. In delimiting an area of research for ourselves, we should not allow such ethnographically rich spaces to become prisons of limited comparison. Belief in the worth of studying pilgrimage can become self-defeating if it turns into dogmatic assertions of what sacred travel must, or must not, contain. (364)

Three things come out of this article for me. The first is that I’m not likely to discover a generally approved definition of pilgrimage against which I can measure my walking practice. The second is that if I’m going to understand the history of scholarship on pilgrimage, I’m going to have to read the Turners’ book and Eade and Sallnow’s anthology. Finally, I’m going to have to read more about non-sacred or secular pilgrimages. Luckily, there’s an article on that topic sitting on my desk! But my crash course in the anthropology of pilgrimage will have to conclude soon, because it’s almost time to start writing my paper for the Sacred Journeys conference in Ireland.

Works Cited

Coleman, Simon. “Do You Believe in Pilgrimage?: Communitas, Contestation and Beyond.” Anthropological Theory, vol. 2, no. 3, 2002, pp. 355-68. DOI: 10.1177/1463499602003805.

42. Simon Coleman, “Accidental Pilgrims: Passions and Ambiguities of Travel to Christian Shrines in Europe”

accidental pilgrims

In the group of essays recently sent my way by Matthew Anderson were a couple by Simon Coleman. You may recall him as the co-editor of Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion, the anthology of essays on pilgrimage and motion I read last week. He is, Matthew tells me, a very influential writer on pilgrimage and currently the Chancellor Jackman Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. In this article, Coleman begins with a funny anecdote about supporters of the far-right political party UKIP mistaking Westminster Cathedral for a mosque. Coleman enjoys the joke, but he draws a serious conclusion from it: religious spaces are “deeply ambiguous” (72). “Capacious and complex buildings such as Westminster Cathedral–simultaneously a tourist site, the mother church for English and Welsh Catholicism, and a shrine housing saints’ relics–operate in a multicultural, multi religious milieu,” he writes. For that reason, “it cannot be assumed that regular citizens will have any idea how to read their architectural or liturgical signs in ways that art and ecclesiastical authorities would recognize as accurate” (72). I am embarrassed to admit that I’m one of those people who struggles to understand cathedrals; pretty much all I know came from the guided audio-tour I rented when I walked around in the cathedral in León, Spain, although I always visit cathedrals when I’m in Europe. There aren’t many ancient cathedrals in Canada, after all, and the stonework and architecture and engineering in cathedrals are pretty remarkable. Despite my lack of knowledge, though, I’d like to think I could distinguish between a cathedral and a mosque!

Religious tourism–pilgrimage by another name–is big business, Coleman points out. In Europe, it generates $18 billion in economic activity every year, and some 300 million people travel to a religious site in that continent. However, “we clearly need a more precise idea of how people understand (and misunderstand) these shrines and other religious spaces, just as close ethnographic observation is likely to imply that we should be wary of making sharp distinctions between pilgrims and tourists” (72). That caution is repeated throughout what I’ve been reading, and I would agree that the division isn’t clear-cut. When I walked the Camino Francés, I considered other walkers (and, grudgingly, cyclists) to be pilgrims, while those who flew to Santiago de Compostela were mere tourists. I’m sure that’s not an uncommon division for walkers on the Camino to make. However, when I got to Santiago de Compostela and rested for a few days, I felt myself becoming a tourist. My clothes were clean, I wasn’t walking (well, except here and there around the city), and I was taking in the sites and even buying souvenirs (tasteful ones, of course). It wasn’t until I started walking again, to Finisterre and then Muxia, that I reclaimed my identity as a pilgrim. My point is that the two apparently opposed identities are actually rather fluid, although given the powerful effect the walk had on me, I wonder what people who fly directly to that city and take a cab to the cathedral actually get from the experience. Something, I’m sure, or they wouldn’t do it. But what?

In any case, Coleman states his main argument very clearly in this essay:

we need a much more subtle and multifaceted appreciation of how much pilgrimage and tourism to Christian sites interact with other forms of mobility. In particular, the latter might include streams of migration that have, for instance, long marked–and made–the European cultural landscape and that are currently producing a crisis of identity. (72)

The travel Coleman traces in this paper “must be seen as complex, combining a mixture of motives and influences, both planned and unplanned” (72), and his intent is “to highlight and explore such complexity by demonstrating how religious tourism exists alongside, and indeed often intersects with, other forms of mobility, particularly though not exclusively in major, urban, religious contexts” (72).

Coleman distinguishes between tourism and pilgrimage: “it is conventional to see tourism as an exercise of leisure and free time or as an expression of preference,” he writes. “By contrast, pilgrimage carries connotations of subjecting oneself to the rigors and disciplines of religious regimes of authority, tracing routes formed by the sacred landscapes of a given tradition” (72). If this definition of pilgrimage is accurate, then the walks I make in Canada are not pilgrimages, because they are idiosyncratic, not subject to any discipline at all, and not part of any tradition at all. I might be appropriating the form of pilgrimage, but if that definition holds, I couldn’t be inventing pilgrimages of my own.

Migration, he continues, is different from either tourism or pilgrimage: it “ranges from the strategic progress of economic entrepreneurs to the forced mobilities of refugees, but is normally perceived as a very different activity than those other two forms of movement” (73). That’s very true, and I often think of how my walking is privileged in comparison to those who walk to Europe from Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq, or even those who walk across the Canadian border in inadequate clothing in winter. That sense of privilege is one of the reasons I’m not interested in the European Peace Walk, which follows a route from Budapest to Trieste. While wealthy tourists (or pilgrims) are encouraged to walk in Austria and Croatia and Slovenia, penniless migrants are held in camps and behind fenced borders patrolled by soldiers and dogs. I couldn’t accept facing, or flaunting, my privilege as the holder of a Canadian passport in that way. It would make me sick.

So, tourism, pilgrimage, and migration are typically considered to be separate things. “I wish to question such assumptions,” Coleman writes, “by indicating how tourism, pilgrimage, and migration can merge and intersect in unexpected, accidental ways, prompting negotiations over forms of access and exclusion at different scales and contexts of operation, from those of the local shrine to those at the borders of the nation-state” (73). One way to examine those intersections is through the cathedral, which, “as it currently functions in European urban space, may provide a laboratory for the burgeoning if ambiguous forms of pilgrimage and religious tourism that we are seeing in many parts of the continent” by “providing both spectacular public architecture and multivalent, capacious spaces, in which numerous roles can be enacted serially or simultaneously” (74), such as in my own experience in Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral “provides the perfect place for what I call ‘accidental pilgrims’–travelers whose relationship to Christianity is often unclear, or whose roles even within the same journey may shift between that of pilgrim, tourist, and migrant” (74). Pilgrimage in these terms,” he writes, “is just one more element of a more complex mixture of identities and mobilities within the moral geography of Europe” (74).

Coleman offers examples of situations where emigrants return home from their adopted countries for their summer holidays, a time that coincides with annual celebrations or festivals (75). One such site is the pilgrimage shrine of Medjugorge, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which attracts visitors with a variety of motivations, from Europe and elsewhere, combining pilgrimage, tourism, and visits to the “home” country (75-76).

The increasing number of people who travel to Christian shrines, festivals, journeys, and heritage attractions in Europe, fascinates Coleman. “Such developments have occurred at a time when activities at the congregational level have often declined,” he writes. “More visiting does not mean an increased interest in religion per se, but it does expose people to religious themes and activities in a vicarious sense” (76). The Camino de Santiago is a prime example and a successful model, in terms of the numbers of visitors or pilgrims who participate, and Coleman notes that it is being emulated by pilgrimages elsewhere in the world (76-77). “Arguably, this tale of success for the Santiago pilgrimage has emerged not only form mixing religion and heritage, but also from fostering flexibility and ambiguity of engagement,” he writes (77). Travellers can walk, cycle, or drive; some see themselves as Christians, others as being more broadly spiritual, and still others (like me) have no faith at all (77). The Camino de Santiago welcomes them all.

From here, Coleman shifts to a discussion of–what else?–the work of Victor and Edith Turner, particularly their notions of liminal space, set apart from everyday space, and communitas, in which “everyday statuses were temporarily stripped away, allowing pilgrims to bond with each other directly, without intervening hierarchies” (78). I have to say that I experienced both of those on the Camino Francés, although that doesn’t mean that there weren’t conflicts along the path as well, particularly between walkers and (grumble grumble) cyclists. However, as Coleman points out,

Subsequent scholarship has often criticized this picture of pilgrimage, with some justification, as being overly idealized and ignoring the conflicting interests among pilgrims, as well as potential clashes between those who administer and those who attend sites. However, critics have also oversimplified the picture of pilgrimage provided by the Turners. The latter understood, for instance, that some of the same impulses that had promoted contemporary pilgrimage were also behind the growth of tourism, given the democratization of mobility and the growth of leisure time in many parts of the world. In addition, they argued that pilgrimage was a phenomenon that could be understood in relation to much larger historical trends. . . . Thus they indicated that pilgrimage has long been associated with forms of mobility that have not been exclusively religious, and indeed that it must be seen as an intrinsic part of the wider political economy of historical, as well as contemporary, periods in the West. (78)

He re-emphasizes the notion that pilgrim and tourist are shifting and connected identities: “both of these roles involve the person shifting between structured and unstructured activity, temporality, and experience” (79). In fact, he continues, “sometimes the division of roles and types of experience can actually be split three ways between pilgrim, tourist, and migrant” (79). In addition, the “structural divisions” of “forms of spatial practice” between “liminal and non-liminal, sacred and secular, cannot be maintained” (79). “As a consequence, it is useful to try to understand pilgrimage shrines through theoretical perspectives that are not drawn from the analysis of religion per se” (79). The urban cathedral, then, is “not only a place of worship, but also . . . a place that enables urban movement through the forms of flexibility (and accidental confluences) that I have been emphasizing,” Coleman writes (79).

Coleman turns to the work of cultural geographers Karen Franck and Quentin Stevens, who write about tight versus loose spaces in cities (79). Tight spaces are defined by surveillance and constraining behavioural norms, whereas loose spaces provide opportunities for exploration, discovery, and unregulated, spontaneous, and even risky behaviour (79). “Loose spaces allow for the chance encounter or spontaneous event,” Coleman writes, “and are most likely to emerge in cities, where free access to a variety of public open spaces combines with anonymity among strangers, diversity of persons, and fluidity of meaning” (79). Loose spaces, he continues, “express well the tensions and complexities around and within cathedrals–and some other shrines–as multipurpose spaces of behavioural fragmentation, translation, adjacency, and articulation” (79). Cathedrals combine flexibility and rigidity, sometimes at the same time, and sometimes serially. A mass might be happening, for instance, while tourists wander around listening (like me) to the guided audio-tour. “Pilgrimage in this kind of space,” Coleman concludes,

is not confined to the set-apart zone of the liminal and it is not isolated from other activities. Nor is the pilgrimage-tourism spectrum the only relevant behavioural and motivation index along which movement to and within cathedrals should be measured, given the salience of other forms of mobility, including migration. Thus Christian shrines are not irrelevant to a continent that is often simplistically labeled secular, nor is their influence only religious or confined merely to the diversions of heritage tourism. They can still rouse passion—often because of, rather than in spite of, their ideological and ritual ambiguities. (80)

I’m sure that Coleman’s take on cathedrals is accurate, although in walking pilgrimages, as I have experienced them, the destination is often less important than the journey. Even if some of the walks I have made shouldn’t be considered pilgrimages–and I’m still thinking about what the connection between walking and pilgrimage might be–often my arrival at the destination has been an anticlimax. When I reached the mouth of the Grand River when I walked through the Haldimand Tract, I found myself on a private beach lined with cottages. It was important to finish the walk, and I was happy, but the contours of the place of my arrival weren’t that important. Arriving at the cathedral in Bath, the terminus of the Cotswolds Way, was also less important than the journey there. The same goes for my arrival in Wood Mountain last summer. On the other hand, I was quite moved when I reached Santiago de Compostela. Perhaps it was the length of the latter journey, and its emotional and physical difficulty, that made my arrival so powerful? At the same time, though, I have to admit that getting to Santiago de Compostela was much less affecting than the long walk I had just completed.

I’m sure it wasn’t Coleman’s intent, but his essay has left me wondering about destinations and journeys, and about what a pilgrimage is or might be. That definition is important, but the more I read, and the more perspectives on the question I encounter, the less clear the definition becomes. Pilgrimage is a contested term, and the definition Coleman offers at the beginning of this paper, one I would have been happy to settle for, turns out to be one he calls into question in his argument. Perhaps I should abandon the notion of pilgrimage altogether when I think about my walks, especially the ones I make in Saskatchewan, but at the same time there is some kind of relationship. Those walks enable me to experience, in a limited way, what some would describe as the sacredness of the land, and that might be their connection to pilgrimage. I’m still not sure. At this point, I don’t have to be.

Work Cited

Coleman, Simon. “Accidental Pilgrims: Passions and Ambiguities of Travel to Christian Shrines in Europe.” Brown Journal of World Affairs, vol. 22, no. 1, 2015, pp. 71-81.

41. Michael Agnew, “‘Spiritually, I’m Always in Lourdes’: Perceptions of Home and Away among Serial Pilgrims”

agnew lourdes cover

Michael Agnew’s article is one of the essays on pilgrimage my friend Matthew Anderson sent me last week. As I read these essays, I am gaining a sense of the contours of the field of the anthropology of pilgrimage, and that’s the purpose of this research: to come to some definition of pilgrimage that satisfies me, for the time being, and to determine how my own walks are similar to and different from pilgrimages. Since I walked the Camino Francés in Spain in 2013, I’ve thought about other walks I’ve made as pilgrimages, but that may or may not be the best way to think about them. Gaining a clearer sense of what counts as a pilgrimage in the academic literature is important if I’m going to be able to sort this question out.

Agnew begins by referencing work by James Clifford on mobility as “constitutive of cultural meanings in and of themselves, and not merely a supplement, a transfer or an extension of these cultural meanings” (517). Travel or mobility, he continues, is not secondary to dwelling, for Clifford, and dwelling itself is not merely the ground from which travel occurs (517). The opposition between mobility and dwelling that concerns Clifford is clearly related to Yi-Fu Tuan’s opposition between space and place, and so it would probably be a good idea to track down the texts Agnew cites here: Clifford’s essay “Travelling Cultures,” which is in an anthology on cultural studies I think I have at home, and his 1997 book, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. I found this starting point interesting, because Agnew is actually interested in two places: the pilgrims’ homes in the UK, and Lourdes. The actual process of moving from one place to another is ignored, perhaps because it is less interesting than the pilgrims’ experiences in either place.

After that theoretical introduction, Agnew explains that his interest is in “the process of conceptual ‘home-making’ that is initiated by repeat visitors to religious shrines” (517)–particularly by repeat visitors to Lourdes in France. “I suggest that in the experience of serial pilgrims to Lourdes, that is, pilgrims who return to Lourdes each summer and in some cases several times a year as a habitual element of their lived faith,”

an existential state or physical site of dwelling is not only no longer the fixed, bounded space from which one departs and returns. It is also carried with the traveller to their destination, the destination is carried physically and cognitively back to their typical place of residence, and the destination itself may also be a secondary if not primary idealized site of dwelling in the truest sense. (517)

According to Agnew, “individual pilgrims can and do perceive and interact with them”–that is, the shrines that are their destinations–“as a ‘home away from home,’ a ‘second home,’ or in some instances their one true home, the one place in the world where they are at peace with themselves, where they belong” (517-18). “[T]he boundaries once erected between the home of the pilgrim and the away of the religious shrine are disrupted by the often habitual and indeed addictive nature of pilgrimage, ritual cross-currents continuously flowing and binding together ‘home’ and ‘away'” (518). I know people who have made multiple pilgrimages (in Spain, France, Portugal, and Japan), and although I wouldn’t describe their experiences as reflecting an addiction or a habit, I would acknowledge that there is something about a walking pilgrimage, its relative balance between exertion and comfort, and between new experiences and repeated ones, and even its potential for spiritual experiences, however those experiences are defined or understood, that makes it the kind of activity many people would like to repeat. I’d like to return to Spain to walk someday, not necessarily on the Camino Francés, but perhaps on one of the other routes to Santiago de Compostela. First, though, I need to finish this degree.

Next, Agnew refers to Nigel Rapport and Andrew Dawson, who write about “perceptions of home in a world of movement, a concept that is increasingly subject to a great deal of flux and yet nevertheless still holds a significant store of nostalgic resonance in an otherwise dispersed and fragmented world” (518). Therefore, Rapport and Dawson argue, we need to shift our thinking from places to spaces (518). A sense of home as a community in microcosm is, they argue, “anachronistic” and “not reflecting a world of contemporary movement”; for that reason, they contend that we need a mobile conception of home (518). Home, they continue, is a resilient concept, and people don’t necessarily fix their identities to places (518). I’m more interested in place, myself, but I probably should take a look at their 1998 book, Migrants of Identity: Perceptions of Home in a World of Movement, if only as an example of the kind of argument that values a postmodern consideration of fragmentation and movement.

Agnew notes that home and movement are important concepts in the study of tourism as well. John Urry, for instance, writes that the appeal of leisure travel rests in a desire to leave home and “revel in an unfamiliar locale’ (518). The differences between the familiar and the faraway produce liminal zones, according to Urry, and the places visited by tourists need to be distinguished in some way from their regular homes (518). “Holidays for Urry are less about reinforcing collective memories and experiences and instead find their basis in the pleasure that comes from out-of-the-ordinary experiences,” Agnew writes (518-19). However, Agnew also notes that Edward Bruner problematizes “this binary between the ordinary and extraordinary/home and away that Urry sees as the hallmark of the appeal of tourism” (519). Bruner’s examples include package tours, in which hotels or resorts become temporary homes for groups of tourists, and he suggests that tourists typically experience a sense of home created by the tourism industry. Tourists expect to experience some things that are familiar to them; they want the comforts of home and to interact with people like themselves (519). Despite Bruner’s deconstruction of Urry’s distinction between familiar home and unfamiliar destination, Urry’s argument still has some merit; I remember reading an early edition of the book Agnew refers to when I was studying the travel writing of James De Mille at York University.

From there, Agnew turns (as most writers on pilgrimage seem to do) to Victor and Edith Turner and their writing on pilgrimage. The point of pilgrimage, as Agnew summarizes their argument, is to go to a far away holy place which is approved by others (the church hierarchy, for example). It’s a collective goal, then, rather than an individualistic or idiosyncratic one (520). However, Agnew argues, the Turners’ perspective “does not capture the full range of pilgrim experience, particularly that of serial pilgrims” (520). For Agnew, the more important writings on pilgrimage are to be found in John Eade and Michael Sallnow’s anthology Contesting the Sacred, which scrutinizes the Turners’ conceptualizations of pilgrimage, particularly the notion that pilgrimage fosters communitas (520).

Another critic of the Turners is Erik Cohen, who contends that they were too focused on Christian pilgrimages, and ignored examples from other religions where religious and political centres were fused, and where the pilgrimage centre is not a centre “out there” somewhere, but the centre of the world itself (520). I don’t understand Cohen’s argument, but then again, I haven’t read it. Another text to add to my “maybe” list!

Agnew cites Simon Coleman’s understanding of Walsingham in the UK as “a sort of second home for habitual pilgrims” which derives its meaning from its exceptional quality as well as its familiarity (521). He suggests that other studies of pilgrimage, such as Thomas Tweed’s Our Lady in Exile, an ethnography of Cuban-American Catholics and their relation to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami, and Zlatko Skrbis’s research on Croatian immigrants in Australia and their connections to the Marian apparition shrine at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, bear out Coleman’s argument in different ways (521-22).

After this literature review, Agnew turns to his own ethnographic study of UK pilgrims who make repeated visits to Lourdes. People go to Lourdes for different reasons. The sick, elderly, and disabled hope for a dramatic cure; others volunteer as caregivers for pilgrims who need assistance (523). Returning pilgrims conceive of Lourdes “as a place set apart from quotidian life as the ideal, while still remaining intimately familiar and safe” (523). They value the sense of community they find there, which they see as an experience of “the Christian love command, fully realized in a unique and highly charged environment” (524). Lourdes also provides them with an opportunity to enact their faith in an embodied manner (524).

The emphasis here on community recalls the Turners’ term, communitas, which Agnew defines as “the dissolution of social structures and boundaries and the formation of spontaneous and immediate personal relations,” an experience evoked by many pilgrims to Lourdes (525). Perhaps it’s because of communitas that so many Lourdes pilgrims describe their pilgrimages as addictive experiences, and Lourdes itself as a place they feel compelled to return to (525). Nancy Frey, in her writing on pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, and Ian Reader, in his writing on walking pilgrims on the Japanese island of Shikoku, both recognize that for some pilgrims, the state of being transient becomes, ironically, a permanent state, a new way of being at home in the world (526-27). I met people like that on the Camino Francés: they simply didn’t want to lose the intensity of their Camino experience, and so they scratched out a living working in hostels or albergues and walking here and there along the pilgrimage route.

Lourdes pilgrims feel at home there, particularly in the grotto where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared (527). Touching the rock in the grotto is a tactile, grounded experience, premised on the shrine’s fixity, Agnew suggests. “[T]he appeal of a fixed, grounded place clearly still holds,” he admits, despite his argument that “travel and movement inform processes of home-making for Lourdes pilgrims” (528-29). “Indeed,” he writes, “it is the conception of these spaces as established and rigid that likely inspires movement to them in the first place” (529).

Lourdes home-making, Agnew continues, is a “reciprocal, back-and-forth loop” (529). It’s not enough to remain in Lourdes; rather, “some element of the experience, some reminder, some touchstone had to be brought back home with them”–the pilgrims–“to England” (529). They build replicas of the Lourdes grotto, or put statues of Our Lady of Lourdes in their homes (529-30). Some take water from Lourdes home and use it “both as a sort of morning cleanser and as a spiritual aid” (532). Many pilgrims value the sense of community at Lourdes, and describe the UK as cold and unfamiliar by comparison, and as a way of maintaining a connection to Lourdes, they participate in reunion masses for pilgrims in the UK (532).

“The centre may still indeed be out there on the geographical and cognitive margins, as Turner posits, but particularly for serial pilgrims returning to Lourdes, it is also intimately familiar, a storehouse for memories of pilgrimages past, and a site for continued spiritual refreshment,” Agnew concludes (533). I can’t speak to the experience of Lourdes, but I would suggest that repeated experiences of any space–at least, any space of any complexity or richness–are likely to turn it into place, as it becomes a known and familiar quantity, something of which the individual develops a deep and intimate knowledge. So it’s not surprising that serial pilgrims to Lourdes develop a sense of the shrine as “intimately familiar.” How could it be otherwise?

I’m not sure that Agnew’s essay has much bearing on my own research, but it adds to my understanding of pilgrimage, and as I suggested at the beginning of this post, I need to know about pilgrimage if I’m to understand how (or even whether) my walking practice is related to that phenomenon. So, for that reason, Agnew’s essay was a worthwhile read.

Work Cited

Agnew, Michael. “‘Spiritually, I’m Always in Lourdes’: Perceptions of Home and Away among Serial Pilgrims.” Studies in Religion vol. 44, no. 4, 2015, pp. 516-35. DOI: 10.1177/0008429815596001.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. U of Minnesota P, 1977.

38. Simon Coleman and John Eade, eds., Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion

reframing pilgrimage

When I finished Ian Reader’s short introduction to pilgrimage as a field of inquiry, I decided to dive headfirst into the literature on the subject. My first stop: this 2004 anthology on mobility and pilgrimage, edited by Simon Coleman and John Eade. Coincidentally, as I was reading the essays collected by Coleman and Eade, my friend Matthew Anderson, an expert on pilgrimage, as a scholar and a practitioner, suggested Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion as one possible starting point, which reaffirmed my decision to crack open this book.

The most useful part of this anthology, for me, is the editors’ introduction, “Reframing Pilgrimage,” which begins with a discussion of Victor and Edith Turner’s 1978 book Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, which occupies an outsized place in the literature about pilgrimage—and which I have yet to read. According to Coleman and Eade, the Turners consider movement in pilgrimage—the topic of Reframing Pilgrimage—as an “embodiment of populist, spontaneously articulated ‘anti-structure,’” although the Turners’ argument is “largely place-centred”—that is, centred on the sacred place that is the pilgrims’ destination (2). (How interesting to see the term “populist” used approvingly.) The essays Coleman and Eade have assembled pick up on that interest in movement in pilgrimage, focusing on “various forms of motion—embodied, imagined, metaphorical—as constitutive elements of many pilgrimages” (3). Those essays, they continue, “examine both movement to and movement at sites (and sometimes from sites as well), and in certain cases trace the ways in which mobile performances can help to construct—however temporarily—apparently sacredly charged places” (3). This emphasis on movement is “intended to move the study of pilgrimage away from certain aspects of conventional anthropological discourse on the subject” in an attempt “to widen the theoretical location of studies of ‘sacred travel’” (3).

Much of this introduction wrestles with the significance of the Turners’ work on this subject. For example, Coleman and Eade note the resonance of the “Turnerian notion of pilgrimage as a liminoid phenomenon, which is productive of social encounters without hierarchical constraints” (3). I’m sure the Turners explain what they mean by “liminoid” in their book on pilgrimage, but not having read it (yet), I found myself wondering what the distinction between this new (for me) word, “liminoid,” and the word “liminal” might be. According to an essay by Victor Turner that I stumbled across online, “liminoid” and “liminal” mean very different things, although they both derive from the same Latin root, which means “threshold.” “Optation pervades the liminoid phenomenon, obligation the liminal,” Turner writes. “One is all play and choice, an entertainment, the other is a matter of deep seriousness, even dread, it is demanding, compulsory” (74). Turner is discussing different forms of rites of passage here (building on the notion of the threshold, a movement from one place to another), and in some cultures those rites of passage are obligatory, or liminal, while in others they are optional, or liminoid. Turner continues:

Liminal phenomena tend to predominate in tribal and early agrarian societies possessing what Durkheim has called “mechanical solidarity,” and dominated by what Henry Maine has called “status.” Liminoid phenomena flourish in societies with “organic solidarity,” bonded reciprocally by “contractual” relations, and generated by and following the industrial revolution. (84)

In addition,

Liminal phenomena tend to be collective, concerned with calendrical, biological, social-structural rhythms or with crises in social processes whether these result from internal adjustments or external adaptations or remedial measures. Thus they appear at what may be called “natural breaks,” natural disjunctions in the flow of natural and social processes. They are thus enforced by sociocultural “necessity,” but they contain in nuce “freedom” and the potentiality for the formation of new ideas, symbols, models, beliefs. Liminoid phenomena may be collective (and when they are so are often directly derived from liminal antecedents), but are more characteristically individual products, though they often have collective or “mass” effects. They are not cyclical, but continuously generated, though in the times and places apart from work settings assigned to “leisure” activities. (85)

Turner’s third point about the distinction between “liminal” and “liminoid” phenomena suggests that the latter is marginal and experimental:

Liminal phenomena are centrally integrated into the total social process, forming with all its other aspects a complete whole, and representing its necessary negativity and subjunctivity. Liminoid phenomena develop apart from the central economic and political processes, along the margins, in the interfaces and interstices of central and servicing institutions—they are plural, fragmentary, and experimental in character. (85)

Unlike “liminal” phenomena,

Liminoid phenomena tend to be more idiosyncratic or quirky, to be generated by specific named individuals and in particular groups—”schools,” circles, and coteries. They have to compete with one another for general recognition and are thought of at first as ludic offerings placed for sale on the “free” market—this is at least true of liminoid phenomena in nascent capitalistic and democratic-liberal societies. Their symbols are closer to the personal-psychological than to the “objective-social” typological pole. (85-86)

Finally, liminoid phenomena can participate in social critique; they can expose “the injustices, inefficiencies, and immoralities of the mainstream economic and political structures and organizations” (86). So, if pilgrimage is a liminoid phenomenon, it would be optional or voluntary; focused on the individual at least as much on the collective; marginal, fragmentary, experimental, and plural; and playful or “ludic” to some degree, rather than being obligatory, collective, central, and serious. I’m not sure, though that leads to “social encounters without hierarchical constraints” (Coleman and Eade 3), or what the relationship between pilgrimage as a liminoid phenomenon and Turner’s notion of communitas might be. Clearly I’m going to have to read the Turners’ book about pilgrimage, which I’ve ordered, since it’s for some reason not held by this university’s library.

I didn’t intend to get carried off on such a tangent, but that’s sometimes what happens when one is reading about something that requires an understanding of specific and even idiosyncratic terminology. In any case, the point Coleman and Eade is making, I think, is that the Turners’ suggestion that pilgrimage is a liminoid phenomenon is useful and productive, while at the same time, their paradigm risks “taking studies of pilgrimage down a theoretical cul-de-sac, both in its all-encompassing character and in its implication that such travel could somehow (or at least should ideally) be divorced from more everyday social, political and cultural processes” (3). The dialectic the Turners construct “between structure and process,” Coleman and Eade continue, “has provided an inflexible analytical tool, according to which the relationship between pairs of dichotomized variables is seen as a zero sum—the more of one, the less of the other” (3-4). Coleman and Eade wonder “whether pilgrimage needs by definition to be seen as ‘exceptional,’ and to ask whether a different approach can help the topic emerge from a theoretical ghetto that is still contained largely within the anthropology of religion” (4). In particular, Coleman and Eade want to think about the importance of mobility, of movement, in pilgrimage. They note that James Clifford and Zygmunt Bauman argue that the figure of the pilgrim is “emblematic of aspects of everyday life,” and that “the era of unconditional superiority of sedentarism over nomadism and the domination of the settled over the mobile is grinding to a halt” (5). Of course, that notion of the pilgrim is a metaphorical one, and as we see in contemporary politics, the valorization of rootlessness and nomadism provokes a powerful (and populist) response in favour of fixed identities (national, ethnic, and/or religious). To be fair, Coleman and Eade do not claim that pilgrimage “can be brandished as an all-purpose metaphor for ‘our times’” (6); rather, they are “more interested in the fact that certain forms of travel, labeled pilgrimages (or the rough equivalent) by their participants, appear to be flourishing in many parts of the world,” and that such journeys “prompt further investigation into the specific cultural, social and economic dimensions of these examples of contemporary travel” (6). Nevertheless, Coleman and Eade do find two aspects of Clifford’s and Bauman’s thinking useful. First, “the assumption that both mobility and change are chronic—or at least not unusual—conditions of many people’s lives goes some way towards challenging dichotomies (evident in Image and Pilgrimage) between structure and process” (7). Second, “when mobility can be regarded as mundane, pilgrimage—as either metaphor or institution—is less likely to be seen as rigidly exceptional or set apart from society” (7). In fact, “[s]ocially informed examination of the history of travel has also tended to emphasize the need to understand pilgrimage in the context of other, roughly parallel activities, and this has sometimes blurred the boundaries between genres of mobility” (9). The distinction between pilgrimage and tourism, for instance, is one of those boundaries that becomes blurry when one ceases to view pilgrimage as something set apart from other genres of travel.

Coleman and Eade also discuss Nancy Louise Frey’s ethnographic account of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, another book I need to read. They note that in Frey’s account, distinctions between religious and non-religious travellers (or religious and non-religious forms of pilgrimage?) are not significant, and that reaching a specific sacred place (such as the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela) is often less important than the mode of journeying (for most pilgrims on the Camino, that means walking). Walking, according to Frey, is a form of self-sacrifice and a way to engage with the past, as well as a way of subverting or transcending “the rushing, mechanized world of modernity and postmodernity” (11). Frey’s arrival in Santiago de Compostela is anticlimactic, and she barely touches on the shrine in her book (11). According to Coleman and Eade, “the intense experience of the journey almost blocks out interest in the destination, and renders overtly analytical (and necessarily distancing) techniques of writing problematic” (12). 

Another account of pilgrimage which focuses on movement rather than destination is Michael J. Sallnow’s Pilgrims of the Andes, “a detailed account of a group pilgrimage that is also a kinesthetic mapping of space” in which the style of movement—the pilgrims dance, rather than walk—“has symbolic significance” (12). Sallnow’s work, Coleman and Eade contend, “shows how pilgrimage can indeed provide a release form the everyday, but is also a recurring event, building up local memories and putting down strong roots in local networks of cooperation and competition. In this context,” they continue, “pilgrimage emerges as deeply embedded in peasant life, rather than as an isolated social phenomenon” (13). Many medieval pilgrimages in England were similarly part of everyday life; they often did not take pilgrims more than a few days from home, and were more routine and regular activities than the lengthy, distant, and one-off pilgrimages the Turners describe (13).

Literal movement need not be a part of pilgrimage at all, according to Coleman and Eade, referring to the work of Alan Morinis. For example, some Hindu mystics and Sufis “have developed a concept of the inner pilgrimage by which the person visits sacred spaces within the microcosm of the mind and body” (14). Therefore, “to gain an understanding of any given journey we might well need to consult a number of possible semantic fields, and not merely . . . those associated with movement” (14). Moreover, according to Morinis, the symbolic meaning of movement in pilgrimage “may be informed by and juxtaposed with cultural representations of its opposite, stasis, and so for Morinis a good part of the meaning of sacred journeys is uncovered in culturally sensitive analysis of this central opposition” (14). Therefore, Coleman and Eade write, returning to the Turners, it is possible to view the 

opposition of structure to anti-structure/process as consisting of a contrast between fixity and fluidity that is powerful both symbolically and in rhetorical terms, even if it fails to take into account the much more complex and mutually enmeshed relations between continuity and transformation, home and homelessness, so-called “everyday life” and sacred travel. (15)

There is a larger significance to this discussion, one I’ve already touched on: studies of globalization suggest that there is a “precarious balance . . . between ‘global flows’ and ‘cultural closure,’” and that being aware of their involvement in open-ended global flows may trigger, for some of us, a search for fixed points of orientation and efforts to affirm old boundaries and construct new ones (15). In other words, “Build that wall!” Isn’t this what motivates Trump and his base of supporters? It might motivate some pilgrims as well: “many pilgrim sites, rather than being contexts for the cultivation of anti-structure, can provide arenas for the rhetorical, ideologically charged assertion of apparent continuity, even fixity, in religious and wider social identities” (15). In other words, globalization can “stimulate the rediscovery of different kinds of particularism and localism,” and the construction of such ideologies within pilgrimage discourses may act in opposition to those who, like Marc Augé, celebrate the “‘non-places of super-modernity” or other examples of postmodern rootlessness (15).

“These perspectives on movement clearly do not yet add up to a discrete analytical debate,” Coleman and Eade write, “in contrast to the ways in which communitas and contestation have often been explicitly juxtaposed in pilgrimage studies” (16). Instead, they provide a number of distinct but not necessarily mutually exclusive understandings of movement in pilgrimage. One is the notion of movement as performative action: “the sense that movement can effect (not always consciously) certain social and cultural transformations” (16). Here Coleman and Eade refer to de Certeau’s claim that walking can be constitutive of social space the way that speech acts constitute language. “Performative,” here, doesn’t mean performance; rather, “performative” is being used in the sense of a performative utterance, a speech act that makes something happen, like “I now declare you husband and wife” or the Biblical “Let there be light!” Another is movement as embodied action, or the way that pilgrimage can provide “the catalyst for certain kinds of bodily experiences” (16). A third is movement as part of a semantic field: “the need to contextualize the meaning of ‘pilgrimage’ within local cultural understandings of mobility” or “such terms as place, space and landscape,” or to recognize that “a given style of mobility may take on particularly charged meaning as a marker of difference (just as the label ‘pilgrim’ may be adopted in rhetorical contradistinction to that of ‘tourist’),” so that “the movement involved in pilgrimage may invoke, play on, appropriate, domesticate, sometimes even negate another form of journeying, such as tourism or migration” (16). “The broader point,” Coleman and Eade suggest,” is “that we must avoid essentializing movement as a category” (!6). Finally, movement can be understood as a metaphor: “the ways in which pilgrimage-related discourses may evoke movement rather than require its physical instanciation,” including the idea that pilgrimage is a metaphor for the journey of the Christian soul (17). 

“Is there any connecting thread that might link these dimensions of mobility?” Coleman and Eade ask. “One is that we see both informants and ethnographers coming to regard movement as a marked activity: it becomes an object of attention and reflexivity, and is transformed from a largely taken for granted physiological act into a cultural performance,” they write. “Much of this book is precisely concerned with such processes of translation, within a framework that seeks to understand actors’ own models of pilgrimage or sacralized travel but does not assume that such marked travel is, by definition, divorced from other aspects of social, cultural or indeed religious life” (17). “If pilgrimage can be seen as involving the institutionalization (or even domestication) of mobility in physical, metaphorical and/or ideological terms,” they continue,

such a focus can be located on various levels. Within the macro-context of the political economy of travel and the globalization of (religious) cultures, dynamic interplays between transnational, national and regional processes may be evident. Theorizing around themes of mobility and movement can also be located within—and integrated with—micro-level examinations of the embodied motion inherent within pilgrimage practices, combined with analyses of the sacred geographies and architectures that provide the material and symbolic background to such motion. In such cases, the focus on pilgrimage as ritual and performance is to the fore, with it involving sometimes unpredictable encounters between liturgical forms, personal imagination and memory translated into acts of the body. (17)

The essays they have collected view the phenomenon of pilgrimage from the perspective of movement, although movement is not the only way to think about pilgrimage: “there are many paths for us to trace,” they write (18). The essays in the anthology explore diverse cultural and religious contexts, although “each case study involves diverse processes of sacralization of movement, persons and/or places” (18). In addition, the essays they have brought together explore “movement within movement”—“particular styles of episodes of motion within the broader framework of a journey”—to show “how pilgrimage can provide opportunities to reflect upon, re-embody, sometimes even retrospectively transform, past journeys. We therefore examine journeys about journeys, and which in the process often turn history into both myth and ritual” (18).

For me, the case studies Coleman and Eade are somewhat less useful than their introduction, although they do suggest the range of activity that can be captured by the term “pilgrimage” and their authors suggest additional readings that would broaden my understanding of pilgrimage. In “‘Being There’: British Mormons and the History Trail,” Hildi Mitchell discusses the importance of embodied knowledge, which is “central to the way in which Mormonism works” (26). That embodied knowledge is produced by visiting places associated with Mormon history, including museums, as a way that “Mormons are able to actively participate in their theology and cosmology” (26). Her essay is divided into three sections. The first explores Mormon history and its central importance to Mormon theology. The second considers how this relationship “echoes the interplay between persons, place and both text and object in wider Mormonism, most especially in Mormon temples and in the Mormon practice of testimony bearing” (26). The third examines “how this Mormon engagement with temples and testimonies works to shape their interaction with historical sites, thus illuminating the extent to which pilgrimage activities are different or similar to everyday religious action” (26). Her purpose, she writes, is “to show how embodied memory acts as the interface between individual experiences and wider religious structures, which perhaps helps to integrate the apparent opposition of the individual/structure dichotomy” (27). For example, she suggests that emotion should be considered “as an embodied and collective phenomenon” (32) as a way of explaining collective religious experiences (32-33). She also uses Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus to think about this embodied knowledge (36)—yet another sign that I need to read his Outline of a Theory of Practice. Mitchell concludes that British and American Mormons experience historical objects and sites “not merely as secular travel, but as faithbuilding explorations of sacred places and feelings,” and that “embodied memories are important in giving rise to religious feelings,” as well as an entry point to the history of their faith (43).

In “From England’s Nazareth to Sweden’s Jerusalem: Movement, (Virtual) Landscapes and Pilgrimage,” Simon Coleman examines two separate pilgrimage events: the annual Anglo- and Roman-Catholic pilgrimage to Walsingham in the UK, and Swedish evangelicals of the Word of Life church who travel regularly to the Holy Land. His aim is to demonstrate how these two groups “reveal significantly different attitudes towards ritual, time and materiality,” and “to show how they are united in their focus on movement itself as a marked activity, as a cultural performance that incorporates performative action” (46). These two very different constituencies can “be seen as providing significantly divergent ways of negotiating the relationship between macro-processes associated with the political economy of travel and micro-level forms of actual physical mobility” (46). Like Mitchell, Coleman refers to habitus in order “to show how rigid distinctions between supposedly sacred and supposedly secular actions cannot be sustained once one sees how forms of worship become embodied dispositions that cannot be shut off once the believer leaves a service” (46-47). He also wants to explore “how ‘non-pilgrimage’ activities and assumptions leach into those making up sacralized travel, not as forms of ‘impurity’ but as constitutive aspects of the travel itself” (47). It’s easy to see the connection between his case study and the book’s introduction: Coleman’s interest is in contextualizing pilgrimage activities, rather than in seeing them as exceptional or special. 

Unlike the pilgrims who travel to Walsingham, the Swedish evangelicals are developing “a charismatic theory of idealized global action,” with people travelling overseas for mission work, and with guest speakers arriving from elsewhere (53). “In travelling to all continents,” Coleman suggests, the Word of Faith believers “are delineating a landscape of evangelical agency, where faith is shown to transcend barriers of culture, territory and nationhood” (53). One distinction between the pilgrimages he is discussing, then, is the distinction between the global and the local that he and Eade made in the book’s introduction. After all, one of the important activities at Walsingham is walking—through the town and between various important religious sites (56-57). Yet both groups of pilgrims are seeking legitimacy for their faith through travel—the Walsingham pilgrims by invoking history (65), and the Word of Life pilgrims “through a global landscape of missionization oriented theologically and imaginatively, temporally and spatially, towards Jerusalem” (63). “If Catholics seek a kind of ‘recurrence’ of history,” he suggests, “charismatics look more to a metaphorical and literal ‘progression’ towards a future that leads ultimately to the Last Days” (65). At the same time, both groups use pilgrimage “as a form of witness, a defence of identity in relation to religious and secular alternatives” (65). There are, he concludes, “many ways to move, just as there are many ways to be modern” (66).

For me, the most valuable part of Coleman’s essay is his brief discussion of walking and slowness, particularly in relation to pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela: 

The bodily and temporal modes involved in slow, effortful travel appear to subvert the rushing, mechanized world of the present, allowing space a kind of victory over time and helping to produce a sense of contact with the past. If the contemporary world appears to be about the compression of time and space, pilgrims to Compostela are entering a kind of sacred decompression chamber. (66)

Slowness and effortfulness (which my word-processing software tells me isn’t a word) are essential aspects of walking as a form of travel, and along with a sense of contact with the past, I would argue that walking may also provide a sense of contact with the land through which one is walking.

In “‘Heartland of America’: Memory, Motion and the (Re)construction of History on a Motorcycle Pilgrimage,” Jill Dubisch explores the Run for the Wall, a cross-country motorcycle rally from California to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC, as a pilgrimage of connection (107). Although the Run for the Wall is arguably a secular pilgrimage, Dubisch argues that it has a “sacred destination” and “combines the individual search for healing and identity with the creation of a collective narrative” (107). Through the construction of that narrative, the Run for the Wall becomes “a ritual performance that constructs a collective view of the past as well as contributing to the construction of a common identity” (107). However, 

this narrative and this collective memory are not developed in the context of the pilgrimage alone. Although the riders are the ones who are making the journey, the ones who are moving across the ‘heartland,’ this heartland itself is created by the many individuals and groups along the way who host the Run, who honour the veterans, and who utter the words that have become part of the ritual of the Run: “Welcome home, brother.” (107-08)

A repeated pilgrimage event, the Run represents issues—PTSD and healing, and POW/MIA accounting (109)—as well as provides an opportunity for a search for belonging or acceptance that Vietnam veterans feel was denied them when they returned from the war (109-10).

Dubisch provides her definition of pilgrimage early in her essay:

Pilgrimage usually involves the conjunction of a moving body or bodies of individuals with a specific geographic location, or locations, which will have their own cast of characters involved in various ways in the pilgrimage. In addition, a specific pilgrimage is an ephemeral production (although much the same could be said for any social activity) and certain pilgrimages . . . may take place only once a year, or in some cases even less frequently. (111)

Unlike Coleman and Eade, Dubisch acknowledges that pilgrimage may be one of the “extraordinary and exceptional events that may radically shape individual and collective lives” (112). The Run, she recounts, generates experiences of “liminality, communitas, the power of ritual, suffering and transformation,” and even though she is not a Vietnam veteran, she was able to experience these concepts “in a vivid emotional, even physical, way,” providing her with “an understanding of pilgrimage I am not certain I would otherwise have had” (113).

Participants in the Run for the Wall identify themselves as pilgrims, and that identification is collective rather than idiosyncratic: “the run is not mere travel, but a journey with a mission, contrasting with trips taken for novelty and pleasure” (113). That sense of mission, of being serious travellers and not just tourists or sightseers, is what makes the Run a pilgrimage (114). This description, however, does not suggest “that seriousness is always a defining characteristic of pilgrimage, nor that there is no time for fun or socializing during the course of the Run. Rather, what is important here is the participants’ own view of what distinguishes their journey from other mundane trips, and particularly from purely recreational motorcycle rides” (114). In addition, the Run is transformative: it transforms meaning, history, and the emotional states of those who participate (114). It also creates a sense of communitas through shared experiences and common goals (116). Through her participation in the Run for the Wall, Dubisch concludes, 

It also became clearer to me . . . that pilgrimage can be many, even contradictory things at once: a political movement and a personal journey of healing, a celebration of the warrior and a memorial to the tragedy of war, an experience of liminality by the marginal and a mode of integration and the overcoming of marginality, a place of communitas but also riven with divisions and conflict, a journey and a coming home. (128)

That description resonates with my own pilgrimage experience on the Camino de Santiago, as well as on other walking journeys that I have characterized as pilgrimages. That complexity is, I think, part of what makes pilgrimages so powerful, and which leads people to want to repeat the experience.

In “Coming Home to the Motherland: Pilgrimage Tourism in Ghana,” Katharina Schramm notes that there is a struggle over the meaning of homecoming and pilgrimage versus tourism, particularly for African Americans seeking their roots in Africa. “The recent literature on pilgrimage has shown that the framing of pilgrimage within the discourse and practice of the tourism industry is far from unusual,” she writes. “Rigid distinctions between (serious) pilgrims—always on a journey to a sacred site—and (playful) tourists—always on a trip to places of secular pleasure, has become blurred” (134). Strict divisions between sacred and secular are therefore called into question (134). Pilgrimage and tourism are also “brought together within wider theories of travel and identity” (134-35), such as Zygmunt Bauman’s suggestion that pilgrims and tourists are “opposing metaphors, each standing for a distinct conception of identity”: pilgrims as metaphors for the modern subject, “constantly preoccupied with the building and sustenance of an identity through which he can give meaning to the confusing world around him,” and tourists (like strollers, vagabonds, and players) as metaphors for the postmodern subject, for whom “fixation needs to be avoided and identities must be prevented from ‘sticking’” (135). Still, Schramm continues, a longing for a stable identity is not outmoded, even if, as a goal, such stability cannot be reached: “as I would like to demonstrate in my discussion of homecoming,” she writes, “the promise of fulfilment and arrival lingers in the notion of return to Africa—even though such expectations may be unfulfilled and the journey towards an ‘African identity’ may have to continue” (136).

Neither tourist nor pilgrim are fixed or one-dimensional identities, Schramm argues: “Both categories are open to transformation and inclined to internal diversification and hierarchy” (136). She refers to Erik Cohen’s writing on the phenomenology of tourist experiences, which may work as a way to grasp the continuum of tourism and its motivations. Cohen divides travel into five types: recreational, diversionary, experiential, experimental, and existential. “For my discussion of homecoming,” Schramm writes, “the categories of experiential and existential tourism are the most significant” (136). Experiential tourism suggests a quest for authentic experiences and meaning, whereas existential tourism suggests the traveller is engaged spiritually, although that engagement may be marginal to his or her society and culture (136). The notion of centre is important here: “the pilgrim is seeking to reach the centre of his own world, no matter how far away it might be in place,” and the “archaic pilgrimage,” where distance isn’t spatial but temporal, is a special case: “This archaic centre is associated with a pristine existence and is mythically constructed as a paradise forever lost—never to be fully restored, yet always longed for” (137). 

According to Schramm, African Americans who travel to Ghana in a search for their roots have many different motives and aspirations, and therefore their activities cannot be grouped together in a single category (137). This heterogeneity “is mirrored in varying understandings of the meaning of homecoming as well as the perceptions of the actual process,” she continues (138). As a result, “the ambivalent meaning of pilgrimage tourism becomes particularly clear” (139). This complexity is also revealed by Paul Basu in “Route Metaphors of ‘Roots-Tourism’ in the Scottish Highland Diaspora,” a discussion of genealogical tourism in Scotland. Participants in such tourism tend to refer to their journeys as pilgrimages, homecomings, or quests (151). Basu’s objective is “to explore the dominant ‘root metaphors’—which are, inevitably, also ‘route’ metaphors—through which roots-tourists in the Scottish Highlands and Islands typically characterize and understand their journeys” (152). He examines the denotative and connotative qualities of these metaphors—pilgrimage, homecoming, and quest—which, he contends, 

together provide a more appropriate ‘grammar’ (including a repertoire of actions and attitudes) for roots-tourism than tourism itself is able to offer: a grammar, furthermore, which has the potential to bear fruit and empower these journeys with the capacity to effect personal transformations, rendering them quite literally ‘life-changing’ experiences for many participants. (153-54)

Such metaphors, however, can obfuscate as well as illuminate, so it’s important to be aware of “the potentially misleading persuasiveness of metaphors” (156). 

Basu suggests that “as roots-tourists leave behind the ‘ordinary’ world of their diasporic homes and enter the ‘non-ordinary sphere’ of the ancestral homeland,”

they do appear to enter a ‘liminal’ zone where they often report supernatural occurrences and altered states of mind (feeling ancestral presences, having premonitory dreams, etc.). Such other-worldly experiences add to the transformative potential of these rites of passage, and roots-tourists may return to their ordinary homes significantly changed, sometimes experiencing difficulties re-adjusting to domestic routines and commitments or else determined to resolve outstanding problems. (168)

I find myself confused, again, between the related concepts of “liminoid” and “liminal,” particularly since the latter term is used by Dubisch and Basu to describe pilgrimage experiences, while Coleman and Eade use the former. Clearly, despite my brief reading of Turner, I have more work to do in order to understand the distinction between these terms.

For Basu, roots-tourism journeys are “are once homecoming, quest and pilgrimage,” and “qualities of these differently symbolic ‘other’ genres of travel and their respective destinations are clearly ‘active together’ in engendering meaning and transformative potential” (173). As pilgrimage, these journeys are simultaneously literal, or “terrestrial,” and metaphorical (173). As homecomings, they are journeys “to the source, to the cradle of belonging” (173). And yet, as quests, their destinations remain “essentially elusive and incommunicable” (173). “By implicitly and explicitly drawing on the route metaphors of homecoming, quest and pilgrimage to provide a composite grammar for roots-tourism,” Basu concludes, “roots-tourists are also provided with a repertoire of appropriate actions and attitudes for their journeys . . . and their vague, incommunicable longing is thus given form” (173-74).

One can’t expect that every essay in an anthology will speak to one’s interests. Two of the essays collected here are primarily useful to me for their citations of other writers on pilgrimage or travel. For instance, Eva Evers Rosander, in “Going and Not Going to Porokhane: Mourid Women and Pilgrimage in Senegal and Spain,” refers to John Urry’s typology of movement—physical, imaginative and virtual, and corporeal (70), which might be helpful in my research. Similarly, Bente Nikolaisen, in “Embedded Motion: Sacred Travel Among Mevlevi Dervishes,” discusses the introduction to the second edition of John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow’s Contesting the Sacred, which suggests that no universal definition of pilgrimage is likely to be useful (93). 

In any case, thinking seriously about pilgrimage is useful for me, because it helps me distinguish my artistic walking practice from the very different practice of pilgrimage. These two types of activity are related, but they are different, and being able to understand pilgrimage literally, rather than metaphorically, is something I very much need to be able to do. At this point, I am thinking that my walking practice appropriates the form of pilgrimage while focusing on a very different style of content—although as I continue to read and think about this topic, I will no doubt change or refine that notion. In any case, being able to discuss pilgrimage coherently will be essential preparation for my conference paper on the subject, which I will be writing over the next few weeks. Until then, I have time to continue my research into this subject.

Works Cited

Coleman, Simon, and John Eade. Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion. Routledge, 2004.

Turner, Victor. “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology.” Rice University Studies, vol. 60, no. 3, 1974, pp. 53-92.