“Pagan Pilgrimage: New Religious Movements Research on Sacred Travel within Pagan and New Age Communities.”

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Burgeoning literature on sacred travel among contemporary Pagan and New Age communities draws on previous anthropological categories, but also offers new perspectives on important theoretical debates within pilgrimage studies. New religious movements’ adherents often travel for spiritual purposes to places traditionally held as sacred by other, more established religious traditions or to places popularly understood as secular tourist sites. This offers opportunities to think through theoretical debates in the field, including distinctions between tourists and pilgrims, and whether the pilgrimage experience is one mainly comprised of shared feelings of togetherness and community, or alternatively, one fraught with competition to define the ultimate meaning of the journey. Communitas theories, based on Victor Turner and Edith Turner’s argument that pilgrimage creates community and cooperation among fellow religious travelers, contrast with conflict theories, first offered by John Eade and Michael Sallnow, who argue that pilgrimages are grounded in competing discourses, both among pilgrims and between them and institutional religious authorities. By defining spaces in new ways and offering alternative explanations for the sacredness of particular sites, religiously motivated Pagan and New Age travelers highlight the contention, emphasized by ethnographers of more traditional sacred travel, that pilgrimages are the sites of contested meanings, in which not only different theological interpretations and values, but even different religions and cosmologies, coexist.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-342
JournalReligion Compass: New Religious Movements section.
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011


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