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Knowledge at a Distance, Authority, and the Pilgrim's Gaze—A Reflection

Jackie Feldman

Abstract

Two themes that surface in the articles in this collection are: Visual knowledge and the means of acquiring it—the ability of pilgrims to see and read signs while overlooking or avoiding other sources of knowledge that are visible or readily available; and the issue of authority: who propagates and gains from the teaching, images, and practices of pilgrimage?

The articles demonstrate that distance from pilgrimage sites and ignorance of local knowledge is important in intensifying pilgrims’ experience and maintaining the power of traditional authorities. While some shrines readily adopt new technologies to diffuse their messages, activities and images, pilgrimages continue to rely on embodiment and sociality to solidify communities and commitments. The variety of engagements of pilgrimages with changing media and emerging historical realities testifies to the viability of the forms and practices of pilgrimage in transmitting other kinds of knowledge.

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Introduction

Contested Narratives of Storied Places—the Holy Lands

Jackie Feldman

The articles in this special section on pilgrimage and the Holy Lands provide a wide range of perspectives on the practice, representation, and production of sacred space as expressions of knowledge and power. The experience of space of the pilgrim and the politically committed tourist is characterized by distance, impermanence, desire, contestation, and the entwinement of the material and the spiritual. The wealth of historical Christian and Western narratives/images of the Holy Land, the short duration of pilgrimage, the encounter with otherness, the entextualization of sites, and the semiotic nature of tourism all open a gap between the perceptions of pilgrims and those of 'natives'. Although the intertwining of symbolic condensation, legitimation, and power makes these Holy Land sites extremely volatile, many pilgrimages sidestep confrontation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as inimical to the spirit of pilgrimage. A comparative view of the practices of contemporary Holy Land pilgrims demonstrates how communitas and conflict, openness and isolation are constantly being negotiated.

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Hiking the Via Alpina

Logos, Eros and the Trails to Freedom

Jonathan Atari and Jackie Feldman

Abstract

Can long-distance hiking present an alternative to the mechanisation, uncertainty and alienation of contemporary European life? Through interviews with hikers on the Via Alpina in the European Alps, we explore this question, applying Ning Wang's insights on tourism as exemplifying the ambivalence of modernity. Modern technologies increase communications, mobility and efficiency, while enabling leisure space for tourism. Via Alpina hikers do not ‘opt out’ of the social frameworks governed by Logos modernity but undertake solitary walking in search of an intrapersonal existential authenticity by reconnecting with nature, the body and an alternative experience of time. The Logos-directed elements of planning and navigating through digital devices are limited to the essential required to progress on the path and enable them to inhabit smooth time, free of the restrictive syncopations of work schedules and pressing obligations. Thus, hikers harness Logos modernity to enhance the Eros space of sensuality and emotional release. Through knowledge learned along the way, hikers strive for a positive, responsible freedom that broadens their sense of being in the world.

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TOUR GUIDES AS CULTURAL MEDIATORS

Jackie Feldman and Jonathan Skinner

This special issue devotes comparative and ethnographic attention to the topic of the tour guide as cultural mediator. Based on studies in a panoply of countries (UK, Israel, Peru, Cuba, La Réunion, Germany) and sites (museums, pilgrimages, casual street guiding, mountain treks, folkloric displays), we demonstrate how various settings, power relations, and tourist gazes enable or constrain intercultural guiding performances. Tour guides embody a wide range of roles, cultures and positions on the tourism stage. Their presentation of “their” culture to others carries a certain authority and implicates them in positions towards aspects of their own culture and those of the tourists that they may come to acknowledge, appreciate or resist over time. Thus, approaching tour guides as cultural mediators offers new insights into the anthropology of tourism and cultural contact as a whole.