Professor Ian Reader discusses his publication ‘Pilgrimage in the Marketplace’, which explores the very ‘worldly’ conditions of development, popularisation, and ultimately, survival of pilgrimage centres in connection to the dynamics of the marketplace through which the ‘sacred’ as a category can be sustained.

Listen Now

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?

About this episode

The practice of pilgrimage is generally held to be a core feature of religious traditions. Pilgrimage developed as a practice available to only a few. The danger of the road, the cost of travel, and restrictions of class and feudal systems made it impossible for the common people to travel to remote sacred places. Similar to the situation in Early Medieval Europe (Sumption 1975: 11-12), political instability in pre-Tokugawa Japan (pre-1603) and an overall hostility to travelling strangers discouraged even some willing pilgrims from visiting many famous sites.  Whether it was wandering Buddhist monks circuiting Medieval Japan and performing healing rituals or Heian-aristocracy visiting Buddhist sites famous for their wish-granting powers, the practice of pilgrimage, and the special benevolence of the deities that went along with it, was reserved for a handful of people who had time and wealth to spare in order to afford the travel and to secure their safety on the dangerous routes.

Since then, pilgrimage has undergone a number of transitions that have shaped and redefined the way it is practiced and perceived. Various socio-economic and political changes, as well as technological developments, the establishment of modern tourism, and the expansion of the media have changed the way individuals ‘do’ pilgrimage, and shaped scholars’ understandings of modern religious travel, facilitating the transition of pilgrimage from obscure ascetic practice to widely popular touristic activity.

The element of journey, the importance of material culture, the role of media and technology, as well as the commercialisation of the practice of pilgrimage are dictate the conditions of survival and the popularity of pilgrimage today. Pilgrimage is a vivid representation of the way religion interacts with tourism, as we have seen before in our interview with Alex Norman on ‘Spiritual Tourism’. However, the exposure of pilgrimage practice to the influences of tourism and commodification does not necessarily diminish the ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ character of the practice. The utilization of the technological advancements of ‘this world’ is an important element in the survival of pilgrimage in Japan and elsewhere, helping it to become a kind of religious ‘pop culture’.

Within Religious Studies, discussion has rarely focused on the so-called this-worldliness of pilgrimage. Yet,  in October, RSP interviewer Paulina Kolata was able to sit down with Professor Ian Reader to discuss his publication ‘Pilgrimage in the Marketplace’ (October 2013), which explores the very ‘worldly’ conditions of development, popularisation, and ultimately, survival of pilgrimage centres in connection to the dynamics of the marketplace through which the ‘sacred’ as a category can be sustained. In this interview, Ian offers an insight into the meaning of pilgrimage, particularly in the Japanese context, and discusses the competitiveness of the pilgrimage market, the practice’s connection to tourism, playfulness of religion, and the survival of pilgrimage practice. After a fascinating conversation and a couple of cups of coffee later, we hope that listeners will enjoy this podcast as much as Paula and Ian enjoyed recording it, and we look forward to your discussions.

For ease of listening, we decided to split this interview into two parts. The second part is available below, or at this link, where it was originally published.

 

Listeners may also be interested in our previous podcasts with Eoin O’Mahony on “Geographies of Religion and the Secular in Ireland“, and Alex Norman on “Spiritual Tourism“.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying books, cooking utensils, waistcoats, stuffed animals, and more.

References/Further Reading

  • Reader, Ian (2013) Pilgrimage in the Marketplace. New York and London: Routledge
  • Reader, Ian. and Swanson, Paul (1997) “Editors’ Introduction: Pilgrimage in the Japanese Religious Tradition”, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1997 24/3-4 pp.225-270
  • Sumption, Jonathan. (1975) Pilgrimage: an image of medieval religion. London: Faber & Faber

 Fund the RSP while you shop! Use an Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.com affiliate link whenever you make a purchase. There’s no additional cost to you, but every bit helps us stay on the air! 

We need your support!

Want to support us directly? Become a monthly Patron or consider giving us a one-time donation through PayPal

Related Resources

‘Modelling Religion’ and the Integration of the Sciences and the Humanities in the Bio-cultural Study of Religion

Podcast

Following his Albert Moore Memorial Lecture at Otago University, celebrating 50 years of Religious Studies at Otago, Professor Wesley Wildman talks to Thomas White regarding the integration of the sciences and the humanities in his bio-cultural approach to the study of religion.
There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat: Comments on Kocku von Stuckrad’s Discursive Approach

Response

It seems to me to be perfectly possible for someone to agree on the problem of representation, highlight the importance of reflecting on the situatedness of observer, challenge essentialism and still show no particular interest in problematizing analytical definitions of religion. There is more than one discursive approach in religious studies. In his interview with the RSP, professor Kocku von Stuckrad outlines some of the key issues that are relevant for constructing a discourse theoretical framework for religious studies.
Beyond Ecological Essentialism: Critical and Constructive Muslim Environmentalisms

Podcast

The diversity of Muslim environmentalisms shows the urgency of decolonizing Religious Studies and Environmental Humanities amid escalating global climate crises, says Prof. Anna Gade in this week's episode. Based on her decades of fieldwork in Indonesia, Dr. Gade sketches new intersections of religion and the environment that decenter conversations long dominated by Western ecological models.

Responses to this episode

Where are you going…and Are you a Pilgrim?

What is a pilgrim? Who is a pilgrim? Simply visiting a shrine, cathedral, temple, or other ‘sacred’ site cannot be the defining characteristic. How do you choose a vacation destination? Is it a specific location with personal meaning, or is the potential for exploration more alluring than anything else?

Other EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY

Religion and Film

Podcast

The interview explores S. Brent Plate's personal research journey into this relatively young field, charting the history of the field in the process. Discussion then turns to the key terms involved... what are we meaning by "religion and film"? The relationship of established "world religions" to cinema? Religion/s on Film? Documentaries?
Sovereignty and Spiritual Warfare

Podcast

Join Savannah H. Finver and Dr. S. Jonathon O'Donnell as they talk demons, American politics, interdisciplinary methodologies, and the critical study of religion.
Sources of Meaning and Meaning in Life – An interview with Tatjana Schnell

Podcast

Recently, scholars have placed the concept of ‘meaning making’ as an important area of focus within psychology of religion. Some people find meaning in religious or spiritual experience and beliefs while others find meaning on more secular mediums in life. However, if humans are truly on a “search for meaning”, as Frankl has argued, what might be some of the sources of such meaning?
America’s Dark Theologian Stephen King: A Religious Imagination Explored

Podcast

Dr. Douglas Cowan discusses his newest book where he explored the religious imagination of Stephen King through his horror novels. Cowan is well known for his research in the area of religion and pop culture through analysis of films and literature. The podcast focuses not only on Stephen King but the process of deciphering the religious motifs within King's work, and the importance of this work to religious studies.
An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion

Podcast

What is the sociology of religion? What are its particular concerns, dominant themes and defining methodologies? Where did it begin, and how has it evolved? This interview with Grace Davie, the first in our BSA SOCREL series, introduces this important and historically influential approach to the study of religion.
THATCamp Roundtable on Digital Religious Studies

Podcast

What does it mean to teach or research religious studies digitally? Does religious "data" make digital religious studies distinct within the digital humanities? What is a digital religious studies research project you think more people should know about? How can departments and the field better support digital methods and pedagogies? Six scholars gathered at the AAR's groundbreaking THATCamp to discuss these questions and more!

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).