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Sacred landscapes, esoteric journeys: challenges of tourism, anthropology and spirituality in European and British contexts 
Jenny Blain
Helen Cornish (Goldsmiths College, University of London)
Series G: Landscapes
Start time:
12 April, 2007 at 16:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

This panel examines intersections of anthropology and 'spiritual tourism', including appropriations and contestations of 'otherworlds' and sacredness and implications of these for heritage management and anthropological enquiry. Concepts addressed include heterotopia, re-enchantment, and power.

Long Abstract

This panel examines intersections of anthropology and 'spiritual tourism', including appropriation of sacred landscapes, place, and materiality, in a context of increased Western interest in 'otherworlds', emergent religions, contested spaces, and a quest for re-enchantment.

Engagements with places and otherworlds may range from the thrills of a ghost walk or haunted house, to potentially-transformative experiences sought through journeying to pertinent graves or on personal quests and pilgrimage to sacred landscapes such as Avebury, Bru na Boine or Carnac (attracting various publics, some as 'spiritual tourists', some as guardians of place). Issues include tensions between commodification, rationalisation, conservation and sacredness, and contested interpretations of place and experience.

The development of 'new-indigenous' spiritualities based around landscape and esotericism, together with the globalisation of 'otherworld' tourism, raises challenges to theory and pragmatics within anthropology; as in areas of:

a) identity and spirituality, relating to places which are constituted by some as 'sacred', with that 'sacredness', or its relationship to movements of people within the landscape, challenged, contested or appropriated

b) tourism and consumption, and how these issues are represented by an anthropology that has been more concerned with travel over distances and with exotic differences, than with encounters closer to home.

Concepts indicated include: <i>heterotopia </i>as difference in inscription/ inscription of difference within place, with associated transformation; <i>re-enchantment</i> as quest for meaning through remembered or invented pasts; and power, in how layers of meaning inscribed in landscape or place become part of the politics of spirituality, 'heritage' and tourism today.

Accepted papers:


Carrie Clanton (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

"Ghost toursim" lures visitors to tourist and heritage sites to consume the exotic other at home and through time (rather than through travel), while simulatenously evoking a generalised past that lucratively authenticates "historical" places and routes.

Paper long abstract:

Throughout the UK, many tours of historical and heritage sites are billed as "living history," despite their reliance upon presenting ghastly elements of the past (torture, executions, epidemics) via representations of the dead. "Ghost tourism," whether as performances in which tourists are guided or entertained by actors playing ghosts, as history walks taking in haunted locales, or as ghost-hunting expeditions to haunted structures, relays a particular form of heritage and re-enchantment through fiction using selected facts of the past. Using examples from fieldwork carried out in London, Brighton, Edinburgh and other "haunted" UK tourist sites, I question how the experiential spiritualism on offer at heritage and tourist sites, whether billed as infotaining consumer spectacles or as quests, may fit in with Hewison's assertion that heritage is always a salvage activity (much like classical anthropology), in which history and culture are re-written according to concerns of power and capital in the present. Ghost tourism also raises questions of how tourists may consume the exotic " at home" through travelling selectively through time rather than through space.


Amos Ron (Ashkelon Academic College)

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, the Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land is shaping the spiritual experiences of pilgrims and other religious tourists in new ways. In addition to the traditional visits to holy sites - emphasizing the authenticity of the locations where the sacred events "really happened" - contrived Christian theme sites that create an alternative to the traditional sites were developed. This presentation will focus on two important Protestant sites, which reflect this trend: "Nazareth Village" in Nazareth, and the "Biblical Resources Museum" in Jerusalem. These innovative sites do not rely on churches and graves, as most holy sites do, but are built around a contrived setting simulating life in Biblical times. Through the use of secular means, the sites provide the possibility for a different spiritual experience.

Three main components underlie Christian theme sites in the Holy Land:

1. Theming: The sites simulate the atmosphere of Biblical times in the Holy Land. The theming of the sacred shapes the architecture, landscape, actors, performance, food and souvenirs. By doing so, the sites fulfill the need for religious visualization, thus acting as alternatives to the traditional holy sites, which are sometimes perceived as alienating and cold.

2. Science in the service of religion: Significant resources are invested in scientific research in order to get an accurate image of Biblical times. The fact that scientists - archeologists and others - have given the sites their seal of approval contributes to the sites' reputation and increases their validity among the visitors. In addition, the scientific aura adds to the distinction made by the visitors between an ordinary theme park and such an authentic experience.

3. Nature: This component is emphasized in two ways. Firstly, natural elements dominate the sites - trees, flowers, water and animals, all of which generate Biblical associations. Secondly, the local guides are trained to emphasize nature by referring to relevant Biblical events through stories and parables.

An analysis of the sites and their above mentioned components suggests that we are dealing with a contemporary phenomenon, which can be called "hyper-spirituality", to paraphrase Umberto Eco's "hyper-reality". The combination between the spiritual context and meaning on the one hand, and the active participation of the visitor on the other, leads to a unique and enhanced experience that can be viewed as a significant contribution to the spectrum of the religious spiritual tourist experience.


Kathryn Rountree (Massey University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper reviews attitudes and agendas in relation to Malta's Neolithic temples, concentrating mostly on one group of Maltese for whom the temples hold deep spiritual meaning and significance: Maltese Neo-Pagans.

Paper long abstract:

Malta's Neolithic temples, claimed to be the oldest free-standing stone monuments in the world, may have first become a destination for religious pilgrims several millennia before Christ, if we accept the suggestion of a tourist video titled 'Sacred Island' screened at the Emigrants' Commission in the capital Valletta. The narrator, whose script was written by a prominent Maltese priest and philosopher, begins by suggesting that 'people from all over the Mediterranean came to worship here since before the dawn of civilization'. From the Bronze Age onwards, the temples were appropriated and contested, re-interpreted and re-used by a host of foreign and local groups for a variety of economic, cultural, historical, scientific and religious purposes. In the last 15-20 years a new group of spiritual tourists, Goddess followers and Neo-Pagans mostly from the UK and the US, has begun visiting the temples wanting to learn more about Malta's Neolithic past and 'see for themselves' its remains, claiming an affinity with the earth-honouring beliefs of the temple-builders, and seeking a personal experience of the numinous.

For most Maltese (and most tourists), however, the temples are not part of a contemporary sacred landscape, at least not in the religious sense of 'sacred'. The sites and their associated artefacts have been symbolically employed as cultural icons in the creation of a Maltese national identity and as unique 'attractions' in tourism advertising, but have no contemporary spiritual relevance. Their current values have to do with history and heritage, science (archaeology) and the economy. While the temples are important symbols of Maltese heritage and cultural identity, this is not linked with a strong sense of cultural ownership. Maltese insist that as World Heritage sites, the temples are 'to be shared by everyone'; they are not owned by Maltese, simply on Maltese soil.

The paper reviews attitudes and agendas in relation to the temples, concentrating mostly on one group of Maltese for whom the temples do hold deep spiritual meaning and significance: Maltese Neo-Pagans. It discusses the place of the temples in Maltese Pagan identity, imagination and practice and briefly compares these with British Pagans' engagements with sacred sites in Britain. Heritage Malta's plan to cover Hań°ar Qim and Mnajdra temples with protective coverings in order to conserve them is discussed from Pagans' perspectives.


Robert Wallis (Richmond University)
Jenny Blain

Paper short abstract:

Heritage landscapes of Britain, as sacred sites, may be seen as places of ancestors. How are 'ancestors' expressed within truth claims of pagans and other spiritual visitors, heritage management, or forms of site development, and what are the implications of calls for reburial of those ancestors?

Paper long abstract:

Britain's wealth of prehistoric sites attracts visitors world-wide: for some, archaeological sites and artefacts consisting of burial mounds, stone circles and other human-made features, alongside such natural features as groves of trees, rivers and hills, comprise sacred sites in sacred landscapes. The Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Right Project (www.sacredsites.org.uk) examines contemporary pagan engagements with the past. Pagans look to ancient religions of northwest Europe and indigenous religions in order to reconstruct spiritualities and so re-enchant the present. Spiritual tourists arrive from all over the world, mixing with more local new-indigenous 'visitors', and making pilgrimages to these places where spirits, gods and goddesses, ancestors and 'wights' can be engaged with, dialogue established, offerings made, and ritual conducted, all with implications for anthropologists, archaeologists, heritage managers and the tourist industry. Sacred sites become contested, heterotopic spaces.

In this paper we focus on tensions between sites as sacred places of ancestors and as locations for (often lucrative) heritage tourism, through examining the recent development of a British reburial issue. Pagans interested in site and ancestor welfare are increasingly campaigning for the reburial of pagan human remains held in museum and university collections, and express concern for welfare of remains found during, for instance, rescue archaeology. The founding of HAD (Honouring the Ancient Dead) and a 2006 conference at the Manchester Museum indicate this as a burgeoning issue. Our discussion attends to issues of identity formation and spirituality in relation to the concept of 'ancestors' in the landscape - increasingly central to heritage/spiritual tourism, differently mobilised in truth claims about the past made by some pagans, dismissed by some 'scientific' accounts yet employed in attempts to resist encroachments from road building or quarrying - and to the power relations surrounding these contested spaces.



Nupur Pathak (Fellow, Royal Anthropological Institute)

Paper short abstract:

Tibetans, non-Tibetans, and foreigners visit Dharamsala, India as a quest for spiritual pleasure. Tibetan ceremonies and Buddhist teachings serve spiritual nourishment. The tourism enhances economic stimulus butInternational migration is a concern for the host.

Paper long abstract:

People in all religions strive for a transcendent world which is free from suffering and seek for salvation. In Tibet the Tibetans used to undertake a journey to a sanctified place or attend ceremonies having sacred connotations which were considered to be core elements of religious practice. The hardships of the journey, offerings to religious institutions or practitioners, survival expenditure en route were only suppose to bring spiritual merit. Since their migration from Tibet to India the intention of the guest tourists (Tibetans, non-Tibetans, and foreigners) from all over the world to visit Dharamsala is on the rise.

A study was conducted in Dharamsala in northern part of India which is considered to be the sacred site for the Buddhists. The study seeks to explore the main attractions for the tourists including the foreigners who travel from far off places bearing the hardships of journey.

Being the seat of the Tibetan spiritual leaders and the platform of indigenous religious practices, the strength of tourists is more prominent especially in Dharamsala due to various reasons. Gradual attraction of this region in exile transformed into a greatest stimulus to tourists since 1989 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel prize for Peace. Dharamsala has become one of the popular tourist resorts in Himachal Pradesh (India).

A significant number of tourists from all over the world travel to Dharamsala during Tibetan New year eve (dgu gtor), New Year (lo gsar) ceremonies and stay long for a set time to attend discourse, to learn Buddhist philosophy, Tibetan language and culture. The tourists appreciate Tibetan religious practices and the teachings of Buddhism as it depicts the way to an individual to be freed from karmic actions, those are believed to be the causative factors for all the sufferings and misfortunes which accumulate in the cyclic existence (wheel of life srid pa`I `khor lo). The tourists also learn how to achieve worldly peace through sacrificial acts.

For the tourists of Tibetan origin the indigenous religious discourse, ceremonies not only serves spiritual nourishment but also creates an avenue to exchange greetings and share the grief and sorrows amongst the fellow immigrants.

It is argued that the attraction for the tourists to this place contributes to responses both advantageous and disadvantageous to the host population.

The Tibetans living in Dharamsala survive on different types of business primarily based on running hotels, restaurants, cyber cafe, souvenirs shops, gift shops, Tibetan ethnic handicrafts or selling home made traditional Tibetan food. The tourism one way enhances economic stimulus to the host Tibetans and justifies the status of the exile Tibetans with potential strength in wider cultural context. In other way tourism has partially changed the outlook of the younger Tibetans. Attraction for jobs abroad like child minder, domestic helper reveals a growing tendency for International migration which is a concern for the exile Tibetans in India.

E-paper: this Paper will not be presented, but read in advance and discussed