Yehuda Amichai's poem is an exemplary illustration of some of the kinds of knowledge that can be transmitted, or the ignorance that can be overcome through pilgrimage. In the beginning was the event that bound together the sacrifier, the sacrificed, and the altar. The initial knowledge of the event is sanctified, maintained, and propagated through the repeated annual practice of traveling, pointing, looking together, and narrating the story “right here.” In this pilgrimage, there is an underlying commitment to the quest, to the desire to continue a link of generations that underlies the story; the following generation's identity as Abraham's children might even be created through the annual pilgrimage to Mount Moriah. Thus, the younger generation can be Isaac's eyes when he can no longer see, and Isaac can be confident that when his children tell him the story that he no longer remembers, what they say is veritable—truthful, even as the details inevitably change with the speaker, with the generation.
The media of transmission and the relation to the celebrated event change too: what was once living experience becomes a recital of tradition. No longer the feel of the blade on one's throat, but the memory of accompanying father Isaac on his search: the first voyage, a childhood experience, a post-memory. But in walking, in looking and doing together, in the willingness to listen to the authoritative spokesmen (here, Isaac's children who still see, still remember), the pilgrimage performs its magic, re-enacts the event. Under such conditions, even the pilgrim's blindness or ignorance of the full story do not matter. The community of faith and practice continues all the way down to the present-day author, who knows and experiences “where he had a war” through the pilgrimage of Abraham.
The loci of pilgrimage and the kinds of knowledge and ignorance examined in the five articles comprising this collection are extremely diverse. Consequently, I will select two themes that cut across several of the articles, without attempting to do justice to the wealth of issues raised by them. I will focus on 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; as well as the question of authority: who propagates and gains from the teaching, images, and practices of pilgrimage?
The primary bearers of knowledge and the means used to transmit it are multiplex: Doctrinal instruction, study of sacred texts, listening to and reading previous pilgrims’ accounts, performing ritual practices, casual conversations with other pilgrims on the road, taking and transmitting photographs and films, circulating relics and souvenirs, and the retelling of the story/experience by pilgrims upon their return. Such knowledge also serves a wide variety of purposes, from proper performance of obligations (Caidi) or rituals (Eade), to preparation for the vicissitudes and uncertainties of the journey, thickening of the social web of fellow-travelers (Mesaritou), internalizing national narratives of sacrifice (Zandi), contestation of knowledge claims (Luz), and dissemination of pilgrim's knowledge and experience to others (Caidi, Eade, Mesaritou).
Following Caidi's classification, the knowledge transmitted on pilgrimage may be cognitive, social, or embodied. Pilgrimage takes place in time and space, it is performed in concert with other believers and calls for displacement and a series of rituals and hexes that involve the mind, the soul, and the body. Often, as we have seen in these articles, there are several avenues of complementary or competing knowledge—as befits pilgrimage as a venue of competing discourses (Eade and Sallnow, 2000).
Talal Asad named the central question in understanding religions as “What are the conditions in which religious symbols can actually produce religious dispositions?” Or, as a nonbeliever would put it: “How does (religious) power create (religious) truth?” (Asad 1983: 242). In applying his question to pilgrimage, I would ask: Who propagates the various kinds of religious knowledge in each of the pilgrimages examined, what conditions make them authoritative, and who stands to reaffirm their authority through them?
I suggest that one of the things that makes pilgrimage what it is, is distance. Distance from home and from quotidian practice. I return here to Edith Turner's definition: “A religious believer in any culture may sometimes look beyond the local temple, church, or shrine, feel the call of some distant holy place renowned for miracles and the revivification of faith, and resolve to journey there” (Turner 2005 (1987): 7145).
All space is socially constructed—a result of the “production, practice, and representation of space, and its relationship with knowledge and power” (Knott 2010). In the case of pilgrimage sites, distance in space makes particular ways of knowing and of exercising power relevant. Maurice Halbwachs’ (1992 ) chose Holy Land pilgrimage as a prototype for the sacralization of space and the social construction of memory. In Halbwachs’ theorization, people “need to establish distance in order to preserve a collective memory,” (Halbwachs 1941: 196). Christian holy places were marked out in accordance with Christian sacred narrative and liturgical practice (and, later, iconography) performed elsewhere (Markus 1994). The textually and liturgically embodied sacred text was transported by pilgrims and clergy from churches throughout the world to the Holy Land; there it was imposed on the surface of Israel/Palestine to shape a Holy Land in the Christian image. The sacralized sites then served as material proof of the veracity of the text, so that pilgrims now sense they are indeed “walking on the pages of the Bible” (Engberg 2019) or re-enacting the Ur-drama of the final passion of Christ.
Pilgrim sites “call from a distance” (Turner 2005 (1987)). They require a distancing from the daily routine, a sloughing off of convention through a therapy of the road (Frey 1998; Badone and Roseman 2004; Feldman 2017). The knowledge acquired in preparation for pilgrimage or while at the site is not fully integrated into the daily routine of the faithful at home. It must be actively sought or presented by authorities at the site. It is the extra-ordinary nature of the knowledge that gives it its transformative potential, even if much work is done by pilgrims to integrate (or reintegrate ex post facto) the experience into daily life (Caidi, this volume; Kaell 2014). Pilgrimage enables openness to transformative experiences (Frey 1998), but may also foster the creation of social enclaves that isolate pilgrims in environmental bubbles (Cohen 1972; Feldman 2002), in which national, social, or doctrinal boundaries move with the pilgrims from home to sacred site and back. Indeed, the unfamiliarity of the surroundings and situation may make those boundaries much thicker than in daily life at home.
This distance also removes pilgrimage truths and orientations from much local knowledge at the site. As the catchment basin of pilgrimage (Nolan and Nolan 1989) is much wider than that of other religious practices, pilgrimage promoters and caretakers see their responsibilities as extending beyond the local to the “world.” Consequently, they often find themselves in tension with local congregations of the pilgrimage sites and their needs (Luz, this volume). But this distance also makes pilgrim knowledge autonomous from and immune to contestation of the “locals.”
The claims of pilgrimage sites—to provide blessing, healing, fundamental transformation, forgiveness, otherworldly merit, transcendental truth—often demand a suspension of disbelief—a bracketing of one's critical faculties, a relinquishing of one's own autonomy—in order to become subject to other religious authorities or to become permeable to claims that go beyond the quotidian. This often includes alterations in ways of seeing. Galia, one of the Israeli tour guides I interviewed in my research, describes the opening of her tour for Jerusalem pilgrims at the Mount of Olives outlook: “I start with Abraham and Melchizedek and go through the Six-Day War … I deal with the view, the Temple, what you see there … Nothing is the way it seems.” Needless to say, Abraham, Melchizedek, and the Temple are not visible. This same willingness to ignore what is on the surface, to see the unseen, to seek signs and significance, and to accept the guidance of authorities, characterizes the Iranian pilgrims that Zandi describes, who are asked to imagine and internalize accounts of martyrdom and heroism in bare, nearly unmarked landscapes. The pilgrim's predisposition to look beyond what is visible, to read the landscapes as signs of something beyond it, marks pilgrimage as a semiotic enterprise, one later inherited by tourism (Culler 1981; Urry 1990).
Knowledge of pilgrimage is most commonly knowledge sanctioned by the appropriate authorities, and the submission to authority—whether incorporated in particular persons or supernatural agencies—makes certain transformations possible. This is true even in an age of accelerated movement of peoples and widespread diffusion of information and images (Appadurai 1996), which often cannot be controlled by a single ecclesiastical source. Thus, the choice of information—or, alternatively, the forms of willful ignorance or refusal of information (see references to Chua in the introduction to this collection) on the part of pilgrims—reaffirm those truths that confirm the status and rightness of pilgrimage organizers or sponsors. Most of these “truths” do not need to be formulated as principles of faith, or in terms of rewards or threats. There are plenty of “softer” ways of accomplishing this.
Thus, the voyagers to Iran-Iraq battlefields (Zandi) are led from one place to another in an unfamiliar landscape (seemingly) silenced, provided with no historical background, geographical, or military context, or even significant material remains. The organizers perpetuate a kind of directed imaginative exercise in deserted landscapes, on the assumption that proper Muslim knowledge is innate to human beings (like Rudolf Otto's  argument for the innate capacity of humans to perceive the numinous). Of course, the identification of the Iranian army with Shiite martyrs and the Iraqi army with the enemies of Islam serves to legitimize the current theocratic government sponsoring it—in which the separation of religion and nationalism is impossible. Knowledge—in this case a newly invented tradition—receives its patina by conforming to religiously inscribed patterns that are understood to be innate—a sort of archetype in collective unconsciousness. If properly framed and narrated, the sacrifice of the Iran-Iraq War will resonate with this faculty or archetype.
In Mesaritou's documentation of pilgrimages to Apostolos Andreos (AA), significant knowledge builds on pedagogical representations from childhood (notebook picture-covers), that emplace the monastery as the object of a powerful exhortation: “Do not forget!” The exhortation—the obligation younger members of the polity owe to their progenitors—is aroused by intergenerational acts of witnessing/transmission that occur while on the ride to AA. The fellow-pilgrims of an older generation who bear embodied memories of the Greek Cypriot sites along the way become guides to pre-war Cyprus, as they connect the names and images learned in childhood notebooks and lessons with personal experiences. Distance here is essential to creating the desire that draws the Greek Cypriot pilgrims together in their voyage. Geography itself frames the monastery as a destination, a goal. The monastery is almost at the furthermost extreme of the island, the northeastern tip of a long narrow peninsula.1 Roads lead to AA. From there, there is only the sea and the way back. The logistics of crossing the cease-fire lines into occupied territory heighten the unity within the bubble, so that geographical and historical knowledge become markers of Greekness, which the monastery proclaims through its continued presence at the edge of the island. As Hecht and Friedland remind us (2006: 34): “rites depend on rights; the very construction and officiation of any sacred site, no matter how meager, has a component of authority.” The performance of religious rites always asserts political claims to space, especially in contested territory. Former Greek Cypriot villages under Turkish Cypriot rule are referred to as “our sacred ground.” “Never forget” becomes a religious as well as a political duty,2 merged in the voyage to the monastery. The sites are confirmed through the correspondence of the monastery with the picture on the child's notebook three decades ago, whereas the gap between the landscape and its current development are signaled by the construction of new mosques by Turkish Cypriots and recent Turkish settlers.
In Luz's account as well, distance is essential. Whereas people come from afar to make prayer requests for the intervention of Rachel, the local dwellers of Tiberias avoid the site. They are familiar with the previous traditions linking the site promoted as the Tomb of Rachel with a Muslim saint and the Arabic inscriptions that proclaimed it. Thus, the memory of the previous look of the tomb—as a typical Muslim shrine—undermines the merging of site and believer, at least for those near enough and familiar enough with its previous history. Yet visual accord, as we see from the Iranian, Cypriot, and Mount of Olives examples above, is not essential for pilgrims’ identification with and of the site. The Muslim decorations of the Tomb of the Forefathers in Hebron or the Tomb of David on Mt. Zion bothered few worshippers until recently. Sites of Jewish saint worship have been established in the Galilee in recently constructed apartment houses, based on visions and dreams (Bilu 2010), as well as at abandoned Muslim shrines. Indeed, even the “traditional” sacred tombs of Galilee were revealed to the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria in the sixteenth century, not through scriptures, oral traditions, or scientific verification, but through the revelations and visions he and his students experienced as they wandered the hills around Safed. Any obstacle raised by the materiality of the present-day site is compounded by the dubious integrity of the site promoter/agent. The local residents know him—and do not trust him. The “blessed ignorance” of both the site's earlier history and, especially, its entrepreneur, enable pilgrims from afar to seek out the site in search of solace and miraculous cure, employing the repertoire of faith and practice familiar to them from visits to other saints’ tombs.
In Caidi's article, we see how a proliferation of sources of digital information, far beyond the control of a single ecclesiastical source, do not result in anarchy or a dispersion of the aura of the Hajj. Rather, Western Muslims sift through the sources, learning to trust certain sources of information and avoid certain (critical or “untrustworthy”) others. They may experiment with different providers of logistical arrangements, while seeking out recognized religious authorities for the details of devotions and religious practices. The fear that the internalization of criticism or skepticism may “invalidate their Hajj’ acts as a brake on challenges to traditional authority.”3 Then again, after accomplishing their pilgrimage and returning home, they may post their selfies and stories of the Hajj on a range of less discriminating platforms.
In Eade's historical account of the images of Lourdes, we see how technologies of visual recording and reproduction are employed by shrine authorities in order to propagate certain kinds of knowledge, while new and more accessible technologies also result in changes in the ritual arrangements and accessibility. If in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the sick body was the object of a medical gaze harnessed to prove miraculous cures, the cinematographic gaze disseminated other kinds of knowledge and spectacle that attracted visitors, not strictly for miracle cures. As cameras, videos, cellphones, and social media made images accessible to everyone, ritual and access to ritual spaces changed accordingly. We see this also in other cases, such as the pilgrimage to El Rocio, where, as a result of extensive media coverage of the shrine, local pilgrims chose to distinguish themselves from tourists and media spectators. They shifted their attentions from the resplendent shrine and its theatrical ceremonies to the rough physical labor along the arduous processional path (Crain 1992). Lourdes’ site authorities adapt similarly to increased visibility, by increasing the prominence of public processions or, alternatively, by restricting camera access from intimate spaces of healing.
More recently, Amit Pinchevski (2019) has proposed that what comes to be recognized as memory is a function of technology. Thus, when the video archive was introduced, Holocaust memory became authenticated, not through the content of the witness's words, but through the silences, stuttering, and tears that interrupted the flow of words. If we extend his argument to pilgrimage, the technologies of seeing and recording will determine what is piety, miracle, appropriate worship, or sanctified knowledge. If so, pilgrims’ visuality, as transmitted through selfies, social media, and blogs, may possess a constitutive agency in shaping sacred space—even more determinant than the social constructivist considerations advanced by Halbwachs.
What role, then, might pilgrimages play in an increasingly fluid world of accelerated movement of people, images, and technologies (Appadurai 1996)? Can pilgrimage continue to transmit traditional forms knowledge and solidify loyalties, communities, and commitments through its religious symbols and practices? Can it survive the forces of media reproduction and mass tourism?
The articles in this collection demonstrate that, far from being flattened by the new technologies and heightened mobilities of late modernity, the variety of engagements of pilgrimages with changing media and emerging historical realities testifies to its resilience. Some shrines adopt new electronic and digital technologies to diffuse their messages, activities, and images and bring far more pilgrims to their doorsteps. Yet, many of the pilgrimages examined here rely on embodiment, sociality and religious authorities, and may succeed in countering—or at least mitigating—the global power of the new media. As an ensemble, they testify to the viability of the forms and practices of pilgrimage in transmitting other kinds of knowledge.
A similar dynamic ensues in Palestinian refugees’ visits to pre-1948 villages in Israel. In several cases, the villages were razed, but the Muslim saints’ shrines remain, and are the focus of Friday prayer excursions organized by the Islamic Movement. Many of the participants join in order to visit the remains of their ancestral villages on the way to the shrine. Older refugees often narrate these sites to younger participants (Ben-Zeev and Abu-Raiya, 2004).
I am reminded of a saying attributed to the founder of Hasidism, Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov: “Remembrance is the secret of redemption; forgetfulness is the source of all exile.”
I found similar selectivity among Christian Holy Land pilgrims. Led by an Israeli guide who was careful to describe the historical evidence or lack thereof of the Christian sites in the Holy Land, a Southern Baptist tour leader and preacher complained: ‘I didn't come all the way from Tennessee to see where Jesus wasn't, I came to see where Jesus was!’ Archaeological and historical evidence are valued only insofar as they provide proofs for Biblical accounts.
Badone, Ellen and Sharon Roseman. 2004. “Approaches to the Anthropology of Pilgrimage and Tourism.” In Intersecting Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage and Tourism, eds. Badone, Ellen, and Sharon Roseman, 1–23. Urbana: University of Illinois.
Ben-Zeev, Efrat and Abu-Raiya, Issam. 2004. “Middle Ground Politics and the Re-Palestinization of Places in Israel.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 36: 639–655.
Bilu, Yoram. 2010. The Saints’ Impresarios: Dreamers, Healers, and Holy Men in Israel's Urban Periphery. Boston: Academic Studies Press.
Crain, Mary. 1992. “Pilgrims, ‘Yuppies’, and Media Men: The Transformation of an Andalusian Pilgrimage.” In Revitalizing European Rituals, ed. Jeremy Boissevain, 95–112. Routledge, London.
Eade, John, and Michael Sallnow, eds. 2000.Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage. 2nd edition. Urbana: University of Illinois.
Engberg, Aron. 2019. Walking on the Pages of the Word of God: Self, Land, and Text among Evangelical Volunteers in Jerusalem, Series: Currents of Encounter, Volume 59, Leiden: Brill.
Feldman, Jackie. 2002. “Marking the Boundaries of the Enclave: Defining the Israeli Collective through the Poland ‘Experience’.” Israel Studies 7 (2): 84–114.
Frey, Nancy Louise. 1998. Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Compostela. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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Hecht, Richard and Roger Friedland. 2006. “The Powers of Place.” In Religion, Violence, Memory and Place, eds. J. Shawn Landres and Oren Stier, 17–36. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.
Kaell, Hillary. 2014. Walking where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage. New York: New York University Press.
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