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Constructing and Contesting the “Holy Land”: Christian Pilgrimage as a Multifaceted Social Phenomenon

Sat, August 12, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 512C

Abstract

What is the purpose of contemporary Christian travel to Israel and Palestine and why do African American Christians, in particular, visit “the Holy Land”? Traditionally, analyses of religiously-motivated travel have been taken up under the rubric of pilgrimage, focusing on praxis and ritual. But tourism studies have pushed this paradigm by calling attention to how, in market economies, secular tourism has become a salient factor in religious pilgrimage. This paper suggests that neither “pilgrimage” nor “tourism,” on their own, are satisfactory categories for understanding the multifaceted purposes and complex social significance of contemporary Christian pilgrimage. It argues that contemporary pilgrimage is best understood as a confluence of spiritual pilgrimage, tourism, political activism, and Christian mission—all of which involve material, symbolic, and embodied aspects that are shaped by market forces of consumption and production. Through the case of African American Christian travel to Israel and Palestine, this study contributes to broad analyses of pilgrimage as a social phenomenon where religion, politics, economy, and cultural production converge. It draws specific attention to racialized aspects of Christian Holy Land travel by focusing on the role of racial histories, identities, solidarities, and collective memories particular to African Americans. This study draws on data from qualitative case study African American Christian groups working to draw black Christians into issues related to Israel and Palestine. These include participant observation data from three trips to Israel/Palestine and 90 recorded interviews with trip participants, coordinators, and movement outreach leaders.

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