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The Art of Modern Pilgrimage

Marjo Buitelaar, Kholoud Al-Ajarma, Suzanne van der Beek and Peter Jan Margry

Mecca, Santiago de Compostella, Jeruzalem, Père-Lachaise, Graceland... The phenomenon of pilgrimage, in all shapes and sizes, is becoming more popular all around the world, but why? Media narratives, like Hollywood movies and best seller novels, encourage people to become pilgrims and share their own stories online. Therefore, the motives of these 'modern pilgrims' are not strictly religious or spiritual, some of them don't even identify as being religious. To make it even more complicated, the stories that they share online appear to sometimes cause paradoxical situations.

Three scholars share their views in three short talks. Kholoud Al-Ajarma explores the hajj. What is the meaning of this mandatory religious duty in everyday Moroccan life? Suzanne van der Beek studies the Camino and cyber pilgrimage. What attracts people to make the journey to Santiago de Compostella? Is there something new going on? Additionally, Peter Jan Margry delves into the phenomenon of shrines and pilgrimage in the modern world. Why do people still want to feast at Jim Morrison’s grave, nearly 50 years after his death?

This will be followed by a panel discussion on the whereabouts of the ‘modern pilgrim’, led by Marjo Buitelaar. What makes a pilgrim? Aren’t they just tourists? What are their motives to get going? Do we just these types of rituals?  

Marjo Buitelaar is an anthropologist and Full Professor Contemporary Islam at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. Her research interests concern Islam & everyday life; the narrative construction of identity, religion & gender; religion & migration. She is the programme leader of the NWO funded research project ’Modern Articulations of Pilgrimage to Mecca’.

Kholoud Al-Ajarma is a Ph.D candidate in the fields of Anthropology, Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen with primary focus on Islamic pilgrimage (hajj). She works on the anthropology of Muslims Societies, migration in the MENA region, refugee rights, and environmental justice.  

Since the 1980s, the popularity of the Camino has increased dramatically. Suzanne van der Beek from Tilburg University has just finished a research into the 'modern pilgrim' and the Camino: "Why do we think that religion, spirituality and meaning making are contradictory to online culture?"

Peter Jan Margry is an ethnologist at the University of Amsterdam and the Meertens Instute, a research center of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. His focus is on nineteenth-century and contemporary religious cultures in the Netherlands and Europe. He has published many books and articles, including the four-volume standard work on the pilgrimage culture in the Netherlands: Bedevaartplaatsen in Nederland (1997-2004). 

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