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Chapter 22. Pilgrimage

Simon Coleman

Subject Religion

Key-Topics pilgrimage

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631232162.2006.00024.x


Pilgrimage is an activity found in all major religions. Rather than declining in the face of modernity and apparent secularization, pilgrimage appears to be on the increase, even if it has been transformed to accommodate the economic, social, and technological developments evident at the beginning of the twenty-first century Within the last few years, pilgrimage has occasioned some of the largest gatherings of human beings ever. The 1989 Kumbh Mela in Allahabad — a Hindu festival held every twelve years — brought together fifteen million pilgrims, and the 2001 event attracted even more, including around 100,000 visitors from outside India. The official government Kumbh Mela website ( http://www.kumbhallahabad.com ) went as far as to declare that “the world stands divided into two — those who witnessed it and those who missed it.” Despite the hyperbole of this claim, the self-confidence expressed has some justification. For instance, daily updates on the 2001 event were shown on UK television, extending the viewing of the event to an audience far beyond Allahabad itself. Despite its ubiquity, magnitude, and longevity, pilgrimage harbors something of a paradox as an object of study. It has retained prominence and popularity across religions, yet has failed to receive much scholarly attention. In this chapter, I intend to consider definitions of pilgrimage, to comment on the academic ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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