The Seductions of Pilgrimage
Sacred Journeys Afar and Astray in the Western Religious Tradition
- ISBN: 9781472440075
- Published By: Routledge
- Published: November 2015
Current edited collections of essays show the state of the humanities in several ways, both laudable and otherwise. First, academic advancement in rank and pay depend on both quantity and quality. Rewarding quality is not new, but the demand for simple quantity has risen in importance over the past couple of decades. Giving conference papers or submitting to edited volumes is not simply a matter of having something to say but of needing to say anything and doing it relatively often. Dovetailing with the economic interest in frequent publication is the current academic style in the humanities, which, in imitation of the natural sciences and social sciences, relies on a lattice of references to suggest that there is a body of knowledge upon which current work is confidently constructed.
I thought of these circumstances as I read The Seductions of Pilgrimage, which shows the costs and advantages of our current conventions. There is a much wider collection of academic voices here than we might otherwise have, and the range of materials is satisfying. Where Anglo-Americans Victor and Edith Turner established a foundation for the study of pilgrimage through an examination of medieval European Christian pilgrimage, scholars from universities in Turkey, Israel, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States populate the volume under discussion, presenting studies of several religious traditions and numerous locations. The volume presents Christian Orthodox pilgrimage in Arizona; Sunnis, Alawis, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Christians in southern Turkey; American evangelical Christians in Israel; and, maybe most unusually and expansively, a multitude of humans in their fascination with the exploration of outer space.
Of greatest value is the introduction to the volume where the central motif, seduction, is examined with the sort of intellectual clarity and arresting insight that are evident in only the very best studies. The empirical studies of the majority of the volume raise the issue of seduction to widely varying degrees, sometimes as a thought inserted into a very differently-motivated study (as in Julia Klimova’s piece on pilgrimage to a Greek Orthodox monastery or Eduardo Chemin’s essay on the Camino in Spain, excellent studies that actually focus on communitas or liminality and not seduction) and sometimes as startling reflections on seduction in concrete circumstances (as in Jens Kreinath’s presentation of the varied visitors to the pilgrimage sites in Hatay in southern Turkey or Jackie Feldman’s fresh thoughts on the seductions of guiding in Israel).
The considerable value of the densely experienced anthropological studies of the volume belie any deep concern that the need to publish in quantity has wiped away quality. And yet the basic need to publish anything is not invisible here. Nine chapters are empirical in nature, and they generally display an absence of extended reflection on the topic of seduction. There is a rich texture of observation in Klimova’s account of Russian Orthodox parishioners in Southern California; the strong contrast that they experience in traveling to a Greek Orthodox monastery in Arizona and its “heightened spirituality” couldn’t be clearer. But the consideration of seduction is more touched upon than developed. What we’re given is raw material that becomes transformed to extremely accomplished effect by Michael A. Di Giovine and David Picard in the introduction. One wonders why the theoretical and empirical need to be so separate.
A more successful integration of the two types of academic work is visible in Ellen Badone’s “Seduction in the ‘Gypsy Pilgrimage’ at Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.” Hers is a thorough analysis of the “tropes of seduction” in the presentation of the French town as a place that offers “an idealized, sacred, prelapsarian state of existence,” in part through the depiction of a “nostalgic, pastoral image of the ‘gypsy’ uncontaminated” by modern life as well as other constructs of the Other (169, 176).
And yet while we get numerous instances of what might be considered the seductions of pilgrimage, it is only in the introduction that we get a detailed, thorough, and persuasive consideration of the link between pilgrimage and seduction. I can’t emphasize strongly enough how valuable Di Giovine and Picard’s analysis is. I will use it in my teaching; I have recommended it to graduate students already, and I foresee using it in my own writing. Let me offer their definition of seduction: “Seduction is a particular social process in which an actor deliberately, strategically, and often through a protracted series of interactions, leads his or her subject to an unintended, incorrect, or opposite course of action by cultivating in the subject a strong desire or ‘fascination’ … that runs contrary to the target’s pre-existent dispositions, motives, interests, needs or ideas of well-being” (2). There is a great deal to chew on in that sentence and yet it is followed by over thirty pages of elaboration of equal value. But, if I may, I wonder whether the conventional either/or of theory/practice is really so inevitable or valuable. Couldn’t empirical study coexist with theory in the same essay? Need there be raw material “in the field” and then reflection “in the study”?
In all, this a very worthy collection that will lead readers in a multitude of global and religious directions of potential value, but it is really the introduction that advances our knowledge of pilgrimage as seduction. Those fifty or so pages will last for many decades.
Frederick J. Ruf is Associate Professor of Theology at Georgetown University.Frederick J. RufDate Of Review:October 5, 2018