Buddhism Buddhism and Religious Tourism
Courtney Bruntz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0133


The relationship between Buddhism and religious tourism has increasingly become an important topic with diverse academic fields. Across Asia, locations and physical sites associated with Buddhism or the historical Buddha are now part of tourism circuits, and early-21st-century tourism developments have contributed to the revitalization of Buddhist sites. Traditional models of tourism and pilgrimage have separated the pilgrim from the tourist, with pilgrimage referring to explicit religious activities and tourism meaning nonreligious secular ones. Early-21st-century works have included studies merging the two categories, arguing that in modern settings, pilgrims are becoming more like tourists and tourists are becoming more like pilgrims. This has resulted in studies on religious tourism, sometimes called “spiritual tourism,” that refer to any travel motivated by religion, where the site at one point was associated with a religion. Religious tourism in this manner encompasses activities both associated and not associated with pilgrimage to a sacred site, including sightseeing, cultivation, and recreation. Religious tourism has also come to include activities related to culture consumption that occur at religious sites. Because of these diverse activities associated with religious tourism, literature is increasingly amalgamating the tourist and the pilgrim, and ethnographic studies are prevalent.

Introductory Works

The topic of religious tourism has long been a contested issue, and works since the end of the 20th century have been published regarding the settings in which tourists and pilgrims become like one another and the situations that separate the tourist from the pilgrim. The rise of anthropology of tourism has helped these efforts, with initiating studies that place tourists within the realm of pilgrims. Smith 1989 showcases anthropologists looking seriously at tourism and the movements of tourists, which has helped initiate studies comparing tourism and pilgrimage by identifying tourism as a form of sacred journey. Badone and Roseman 2004, as well as Morinis 1992, contributes to the anthropological analysis of pilgrimage and tourism by looking at case studies and theories to decipher diverse meanings of religious tourism. These efforts have also been taken up by sociologists, who have added insight into the economic and sociocultural aspects affecting the movements of tourists. Sociological studies have taken different approaches, with MacCannell 1999 and Sharpley 2008 looking at theoretical matters regarding tourism and Cohen 2004 writing about case studies. Read together, these works contextualize theories of religiously motivated travel, the reasons why people undertake it, attached meanings and values, and its role in diverse societies. Works such as Smith, et al. 2010 and Timothy 2011 aid the sociological perspective by incorporating cultural studies. Both of these consider tourism from the standpoint of heritage, which contributes to understanding how religious tourism relates to broader conceptions of culture. Founded in 2013, the International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage is dedicated to interdisciplinary and international studies of religious tourism and provides a significant resource for scholars. These sources aid studies on Buddhism and religious tourism by offering ways of conceptualizing motivated travel, and anthropological and sociological theories regarding the motivations of tourists provide initial frameworks for investigating relationships between Buddhism and tourism.

  • Badone, Ellen, and Sharon R. Roseman, eds. Intersecting Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage and Tourism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

    A collection of papers that evaluates the connections between pilgrimage and tourism, as well as considering debates regarding movement, social identities, and the negotiation of meanings.

  • Cohen, Erik. Contemporary Tourism: Diversity and Change. Oxford: Elsevier, 2004.

    Bringing together Cohen’s works from the previous three decades, this collection provides articles on the sociology of tourism. Cohen’s work interfaces tourism and religion, and provides several case studies for considering tourism’s future developments.

  • MacCannell, Dean. The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. Tourism Social Science. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

    A sociological evaluation of tourism as a modern substitute for religion, and tourism as the pilgrimage of modern times.

  • Morinis, Alan, ed. Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage. Contributions to the Study of Anthropology 7. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992.

    Combines theoretical issues with case studies to represent a broad selection of pilgrimage traditions. Contributes to the analysis of pilgrimage in general, as well as discussions of pilgrimage and tourism.

  • Sharpley, Richard. Tourism, Tourists and Society. Huntingdon, UK: Elm, 2008.

    Introduces basic sociological theories and their relevance to tourism and examines the major themes and issues concerning the social nature of tourism. It explores the relationship between tourism and society from two perspectives: the influence of society on tourism and the influence of tourism on society.

  • Smith, Valene L., ed. Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism. 2d ed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

    DOI: 10.9783/9780812208016

    This major anthropological work consists of papers considering tourism from multiple angles. It is one of the first anthologies to theorize tourist activities, laying the framework for later works regarding anthropology and tourism.

  • Smith, Melanie, Nicola MacLeod, and Margaret Hart Robertson. Key Concepts in Tourist Studies. SAGE Key Concepts. London: SAGE, 2010.

    Tackles diverse topics, including anthropology of tourism, cultural tourism, heritage tourism, festivals and events tourism, religious and spiritual tourism, and sociology of tourism. Presents key concepts within the field of tourist studies.

  • Timothy, Dallen J. Cultural Heritage and Tourism: An Introduction. Aspects of Tourism Texts. Tonawanda, NY: Channel View, 2011.

    Divided between broad conceptions of heritage tourism in the beginning, and research experience in the second half, this work details consuming culture as heritage and the positions of museums, archaeological sites, landscapes, and religious places. It is useful for placing religious tourism within other currents of tourism research.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.