In This Article Pilgrimage

  • Introduction
  • Defining Pilgrimage
  • Development of the Anthropological Study of Pilgrimage
  • Methods: Qualitative Approaches and Personal Belief
  • Pilgrimage and Tourism as Metaphors or Ideal Types
  • Pilgrimage and Tourism – Empirical Research
  • Films
  • Virtual Pilgrimage
  • Pilgrimage and Gender
  • Pilgrimage, Politics, Nationalism, and Identity
  • Shared Shrines
  • Pilgrimage as an Economic Activity
  • Short Visits and Local Shrines
  • Pilgrimage and the Anthropology of Christianity
  • Beyond the Representational Approach: Lived and Material Religion and Landscape

Anthropology Pilgrimage
John Eade, Evgenia Mesaritou
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0195


The multifaceted nature of contemporary pilgrimage cannot be understood from one particular discipline and, as a consequence, its study has become increasingly multidisciplinary and global in approach. Anthropologists have made a major contribution to pilgrimage studies but significant research has also been produced by those based in history, religious studies, tourism studies, geography, ethnology and folklore studies, for example, and by those undertaking research outside Europe and North America, including in the Near East, northern and southern Africa, the Asia Pacific region, Oceania, and Latin America. The contemporary practice of pilgrimage is also not restricted to institutional religion. Visits to nonreligious sites have become increasingly popular, reflecting historical change. Large numbers of people are attracted to sites of suffering, such as the First World War battlefields in France, Belgium, and Turkey; the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland and the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, and places associated with icons of popular culture, e.g., Elvis Presley’s grave in Memphis, Tennessee (see Reader and Walter 1993, cited under Development of the Anthropological Study of Pilgrimage). Furthermore, those journeying to and from religious pilgrimage sites have often little or no interest in institutional religion. Moreover, pilgrimage cannot be studied in isolation from wider contexts. Hence, as detailed in various sections in this article, close attention has been paid to the intimate relationship between pilgrimage and tourism, while increasing interest is being shown in the role played by political and economic processes in the development of pilgrimage. Evgenia Mesaritou’s Fellowship has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 752103.

Defining Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage will be defined here minimally as a journey undertaken by people around the world to and from one or more places that they consider to be particularly special or meaningful, as well as the activities which they undertake at the destination(s). Although the term has been intimately bound up with European Christianity, pilgrimage did not originally refer to religious beliefs and practices and gained a religious connection only during the Middle Ages. Pilgrimage as a term in English and other languages with a Latin root is embedded within a particular cultural context and other cultures may not have close equivalents.

  • Albera, Dionigi. 2018. Afterword: Going beyond the elusive nature of pilgrimage. In Pilgrimage and political economy: Translating the sacred. Edited by Simon Coleman and John Eade, 173–190. New York: Berghahn.

    E-mail Citation »

    In this chapter, Dionigi Albera provides a detailed discussion of the linguistic roots of the English term pilgrimage and the latter’s role in bringing together disparate elements and local usages under one, seemingly unitary, unique label.

  • Dyas, Dee. 2001. Pilgrimage in medieval English literature, 700–1500. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer.

    E-mail Citation »

    Explores how the development of three types of pilgrimage was related to a variety of texts, ranging from the Bible to popular devotion. The author then proceeds to show how multiple interpretations of pilgrimage were reflected in spiritual beliefs and practices as well as in writing.

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