Pilgrimage Sites in the American Southwest: A Narrative Exploration of Sacred Destinations
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Literature Review The study of pilgrimage covers a wide range of approaches: historical, personal, theoretical, literary, even artistic (Coleman and Elsner 8). No one view encompasses the richness of the pilgrimage experience, yet certain principles help define the practice and its significance. Most scholars discuss pilgrims as visitors delineated by their levels and modes of participation at a given site (Hendrickson 139, Coats 485). This may involve inclusion in a liminal community, which anthropologists Victor and Edith Turner call communitas, a group of people who leave the familiar and enter a more equalized society (Holmes-Rodman 44, Turner 135). Inhabiting the pilgrimage sites at the same time, visitors consequently embody what religious scholar Thomas Bremer calls "simultaneity of place:" each visitor has a unique understanding of the site, applying myriad interpretations of the same externalities: they choose how and if they will participate in rituals, obtain tokens from their journey, and allow the trip to affect their self-image (Coleman and Elsner 6-9, Olsen 134, Bremer 3). Those who run the pilgrimage site may ascribe to a modernist view of identity formation, in which the site reinforces a prior concept of self, or a postmodernist view, in which the site exerts influence over a visitor (Olsen 363). Thesis Statement Simultaneously curated, engaged, and contested, pilgrimage sites generate subjective narratives that emphasize arrival as an experience of return. Theoretical Framework My body of work explores pilgrimage at three major sites in the American Southwest: Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah; the Santuario de Chimayó in New Mexico; and Sedona, Arizona. I examine the historical background and anthropological frameworks of personal and communal pilgrimage experiences, as well as spiritual and touristic site curation. Project Description Research for the project was conducted through close textual analyses of narrative and academic writing on the three pilgrimage sites, testing and reconsidering contemporary anthropological and cultural geographical theories of the pilgrimage phenomenon. Balancing research with fieldwork, I organized informal and semi-formal interviews with people associated with the sites, including local Mormon missionaries, two historians at Chimayó (Richard Rieckenberg and Pat Oviedo), and contemporaneous visitors at Chimayó. While at Chimayó in March 2018, my experience provided immediate reflection filtered through my completed scholarly research. In contrast, I visited Temple Square and Sedona prior to and outside the scope of the project, which has afforded me a rich opportunity for reflection well after these experiences and before I understood them as pilgrimages. Finally, I examined tourism websites for Salt Lake City (templesquare.com), Chimayó (holychimayo.us), and Sedona (visitsedona.com) to examine their crafting of a virtual tourism experience as contemporary pilgrimage. My exploration of pilgrimage sites culminated in original works of prose and poetry.
Salt Lake City
simultaneity of place
space and place
Kiolbassa, Courtney E (2018). Pilgrimage Sites in the American Southwest: A Narrative Exploration of Sacred Destinations. Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from