Pilgrimage: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780198718222

Ian Reader
144 Pages
112 x 174 mm
Pub date
Apr 2015
Very Short Introductions


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  • Examines the key themes of pilgrimage, through history and in the present
  • Includes examples from around the world, with sites from Japan, India, Europe, the US, the Middle East
  • Considers the importance of both religious and secular pilgrimage
  • Considers its role as 'spiritual tourism' as well as the commercial aspects of pilgrimage, including souvenirs
  • Explores how international and economic developments have influenced pilgrimage

Pilgrimage is found in most religious cultures, with large numbers of sites - from globally renowned places to regional shrines - flourishing historically and in the modern day. Pilgrimage centres around the world, including Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Guadalupe in Mexico, Lourdes in France, Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Haridwar in India, and Shikoku in Japan, attract millions of pilgrims annually, while a flourishing 'spiritual tourism' industry has grown to promote the practice. In the present day, new pilgrimage locations, including 'secular' ones with no official affiliation, such as Graceland, Elvis Presley's house, continue to emerge across the world.

In this Very Short Introduction Ian Reader explores the factors that affect how pilgrimage has changed over time, from contemporary international developments, such as mass transportation to changing social attitudes reflected in the motives of pilgrims through the ages. He demonstrates the social and international aspects of pilgrimage, showing how it has become a way of expressing social identity and cultural heritage, as well as being entwined with themes of entertainment and tourism. 

Reader explores the key issues and themes of pilgrimage through history to the present, looking at its various forms, how people take part, what is learnt from the journeys, and why pilgrimage remains popular in an increasingly secular age.  

"a stimulating introduction to an important feature of all religions." - Church of England Newspaper

"The author has successfully written a little book on a much needed topic, especially for urban dwellers nowadays. This is a high recommended 'very short' introduction to the subject." - Josaphat C. Tam, The Expository Times


1: Introduction: the multiple forms of pilgrimage
2: Examining pilgrimage: forms, types, and interpretations
3: Pilgrimages worldwide: a global and historical outline
4: Motives and means: Asceticism and the package tour
5: Tourism, entertainment, relics, and souvenirs
6: Modern developments, secular sites, and the reshaping of pilgrimage
7: Conclusion: an ever-changing phenomenon
Further reading

About the author: 

Ian Reader is Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester. He has held several previous posts at other universities, including the University of Lancaster, UK, the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies, Denmark, the University of Hawaii, USA, and Kansai Gaidai University, Japan. He has published several books and numerous articles on Japanese religious dynamics and practices, including Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku (University of Hawaii Press, 2005), Pilgrimage in the Marketplace (Routledge, 2013), an edited volume Pilgrimage in the Japanese Tradition (with Paul L. Swanson, as a special edition of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 1997), and several journal articles and book chapters.

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