Pilgrimage vs Relgious Tourism


A pilgrimage is a journey taken for religious purposes; “…a physical journey to a special place, but also an inner spiritual journey” (Pilgrims)  and for many, life itself (Pilgrims 2012).  The act of pilgrimage and being a pilgrim is found in many religions where people have great faith and travel to and from a spiritual place that they deem sacred and worship there.   Pilgrimage is popular in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.  These pilgrims strengthen their faith by visiting places with the “spiritual presence of holy figures at the hearts of their traditions” (Pilgrims).  Their devotion and faith is proven while they view and experience religious landmarks.  Beyond traditional world religions, pilgrimage is also found in religious traditions of one culture or ethnic community (I.E. Shinto in Japan) as well as, newly formed religious movements that are popular today.

A spiritual place has some magical or “spiritual magnetism” that draw people to it.  Usually something out of the ordinary, a miracle and people travel to this site hoping to experience the same. The unusual, out of the ordinary is not always associated with spirits or apparitions like the Virgin Mary but also can be linked to a holy figure and founders and pilgrims trace the footsteps and create a sacred pilgrimage.  Many Catholics visit Medugorje in Bosnia where the Virgin Mary appeared to six teenagers and still continues to each year and many pilgrims claim to experience miracles.  Others follow Budda’s footsteps or Muslim pilgrimage, the haji, is associated with the footsteps and activities of the holy figure and replicates the farewell pilgrimage made to Mecca by the prophet Mohammed just prior to his death in 632CE.  “Pilgrims on the hajj follow in his footsteps and undertake activities he is said to have performed during this farewell pilgrimage” (Pilgrims 2012).

Christianity also focuses on relics — remains of a saint or articles that have been in contact with a saint and in which some of the saint’s power is believed to reside (Pilgrims 2012)  Relics also are an important focus of Buddhist pilgrimages.  People are also drawn to places, rivers or other places that are a part of the natural landscape. The” geographical landscape features may in and of themselves provide the impetus for the formation of a pilgrimage site, and serve as the magnet drawing people to them” (Pilgrim 2012).

Pilgrimages can be to far off places or even close to home and can have religious significance or in this world, can be the grave site of famous rock star such as Jimmy Hendrix or Elvis Presley.  What is important though with a pilgrimage is the “pilgrim” is on a “spiritual journey”  to renew and experience his faith at a deeper level.


Religious Tourism  is tourism that is motivated by faith or religious reasons.  Recently, it has been suggested that modern tourism “…has become the functional and symbolic equivalent of more

traditional religious practices, such as festivals and pilgrimages” ( Sharpley 2005).    People visiting religious sites may be only one element of a multifunctional trip.  Vukonic suggests that free time often becomes a “…a space for the contemplative and the creative, a unity of thought and action” (1996) while at the same time give folks time to identify and nurture their spiritual needs.  That time can be viewed as a spiritual or sacred journey.  Graburn (1989) observed “tourism is functionally and

symbolically equivalent to other institutions that humans use to embellish and add meaning to their lives’; it may be understood either as a regular secular ritual (the annual vacation) that acts as a counterpoint to everyday life and work or as a more specific rite of passage or ‘personal transition in people’s lives”.  On one extreme there is the individual who is driven by faith, spiritual fulfillment and religion to the tourist who visits religious sites for cultural reason thus adding meaning to their life.

                According to Smith (1992), tourism and pilgrimage are similar in that both tourists and pilgrims share the same important requirements to undertake their journey– free (leisure) time, sufficient financial resources and social approval.  Many religious sites are given the status of an icon or spiritual place and tourist flock to the area.  Pilgrims are seen as having a legitimate pursuit of spiritual fulfillment whereas the tourist may be seeking cultural fulfillment and souvenirs or mementos.  A tourist can be as driven as a pilgrim and some suggest that all tourists are modern day pilgrims on a searching for authenticity (MacCannell 1989).  Tourists seek to satisfy personal and spiritual needs.  Tourist may have sacred vacation and provide personal meaning.  Smith (1992) suggests pilgrimage and tourism may be thought of “two parallel, interchangeable lanes’ following different quests – the religious and the secular”.

References Cited

2005 Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Medugorie Pilgrimage.  Electronic document.  http://www.bhtourism.ba/eng/medugorje.wbsp.  April 25, 2013.

Dyas, Dee and Ian Reader.

2012  Pilgrims and Pilgrimages.  University of York.  Electronic document

http://www.york.ac.uk/projects/pilgrimage/map.htm.  April 25, 2013.

Graburn, Nelson

 1989  “Tourism: the sacred journey”.  Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism.  University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia; 21–36.

MacCannell, Dean

 1989  The Tourist: a New Theory of the Leisure Class.  Shocken Books: New York.

Sharpley, Richard and Priya Sundaram

2005  “Tourism: a Sacred Journey?  The Case of Ashram Tourism, India”. International Journal of Tourism Research.  7(3): 161-171.

Smith V.L.

1992. “Pilgrimage and Tourism” Annals of Tourism Research.  19 (1) Electronic document.  April 25 2013.

Vukonic, Boris

1996  Tourism and Religion. Pergamon Press : Oxford.

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