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Age of Innocence

The Symbolic Child and Political Conflict on American Holy Land Pilgrimage

Hillary Kaell

The link between US evangelicalism, Zionism, and Middle East policy is well documented, as is its refraction through Christian tourism/pilgrimage in Israel-Palestine. However, the scholarly focus on political Zionism oversimplifies how American Christian pilgrims, mostly older women, actually construe the experience: they see contemporary politics as unrelated, and even antithetical, to the trip's spiritual goals. Building on Liisa Malkki's notion of 'tranquilizing' symbols, this article shows how pilgrims draw on broadly moral cultural tropes to quell political discussions, while still speaking in a moral register about Israelis and Palestinians. It explores how one especially powerful trope—the 'symbolic child'—is deployed during the trip. Tracing this image historically and ethnographically, I argue that pilgrims ground their reactions to Israeli-Palestinian conflict in symbolism with deep resonance for American women, which also speaks to how they engage in politics at home.

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Jon Bialecki, Erica Weiss, Hillary Kaell, Christopher Hewlett, Sibyl Macfarlane, Grit Wesser, Emma Gobin, James S. Bielo, Sindre Bangstad and Thorgeir Kolshus

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