Accepted paper:

Pilgrims, prostitutes and "ritual seks": heterodox ritual practices and gender relations in Central Java, Indonesia

Authors:

Volker Gottowik (Frankfurt University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper deals with sacred sites in Central Java where sexual intercourse is one of the ritual acts performed by pilgrims of both sexes. The focus is on gender relations that are symbolically expressed in acts of ritualized sex ("ritual seks") at pilgrimage sites.

Paper long abstract:

In Central Java, there are a number of pilgrimage sites that are visited by pilgrims of both sexes either to communicate with each other sexually or - as far as men are concerned - to have sexual contacts with prostitutes. The pilgrims are confident in both cases that the sexual act consummated on site can help them redeem the actual goals of their pilgrimage, namely health, wealth and happiness. Central to the legitimation of "ritual seks" are local legends that tell of exceptional love couples in the historical past. Pilgrims try to reenact the behavior of these sacralized lovers mimetically in order to accommodate some of the spiritual power they embody. The development of "ritual seks" into a mass phenomenon that has only emerged over the last twenty to thirty years is in clear contradiction to the frequently diagnosed Islamization of Indonesian society, including its sexual norms and moral values. This paper aims at examining these rituals not only in terms of the religious dynamics to which they paradigmatically refer but also in regard to gender relations which are performatively enacted with "ritual seks" at pilgrimage sites.

panel P101
Travelling religion, religious travel. Gender challenges in theory and ethnography [Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality Network]