Becoming Strangers:
Travel, Trust, and the Everyday.
Day Fourteen: Pilgrimage
Entering the Middle World
The middle world can be entered in various ways: as a refugee, as a
tourist, as a scientist, etc.
The middle world is a contested zone: different senses of “place” are
present, as well as improvised “spaces” & other stuff that eludes
ready intelligibility.
The middle world is dangerous (to health & to one’s understanding
of the world) but it can also be the occasion for discovery,
transformation, and liberation.
The outcome of entering the middle world depends a lot on who
enters it, why, and with what possessions.
In the Middle World
Middle worlds, as zones of contest and creativity, often
prompt the invention of new technologies, behaviors,
ways of communicating, even new ways of perceiving
and new languages.
Because different places and spaces mix in the middle
world, people often become acutely aware of different
ways that time is and can be measured.
Throughout history, there have been people who have
attempted to dwell more or less permanently in the
middle world. These “nomads” have also been more
or less successful in this ambition.
Pilgrimage is a common form of religious
observance endorsed by many (but not all) faiths.
A pilgrimage can (provisionally) be defined as a
journey to a sacred site for the purpose of
devotion, intercession, penance, or thanksgiving.
Pilgrims typically distinguish themselves from other
travelers through dress and behavior. In other
words, they mark themselves as inhabiting a
middle world.
Pilgrimage: The Christian Case
From the beginning, Christianity distinguished itself from GrecoRoman traditional religions by placing the tombs and bodies of
saints and martyrs at the center of its religious observances.
By the 2nd century CE, archaeology shows that people were traveling
long distances to Rome and Jerusalem for religious purposes.
By the 4th century CE, the pilgrimage memoir has become a
recognizable genre. Also in place: A system of hostels and other
support services catering to pilgrims.
During the middle ages, the average peasant might meet 20 people in
a lifetime. The great exception: pilgrims!
Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
Whan that Aprille with his
showres soote
The droughte of March hath
perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in
swich licour
Of which virtu engendred is the
flour . . . .
Thanne longen folk to goon on
Margery Kempe (1373-1440)
Pilgrimage: Early Modern Japan
Pilgrimage in early modern Japan
(1550-1850) became a popular
form of religious observance,
associated originally with the
shrine of Ise but later spreading
to other Shinto shrines.
The poet Basho wrote one of the
most popular and influential of
all pilgrimage narratives: The
Narrow Road to the North (1694).
Basho interspersed haiku describing
the beauty and transience of
nature in his tale.
Pilgrimage: The Case of Islam
The Prophet Muhammad
established a pilgrimage to
the city of Mecca as one of the
Five Pillars of Islam.
Every Muslim is required to
make the trip at least once,
unless family, financial, or
physical hardships prevent it.
Two million plus people today
make the pilgrimage annually
during the appointed time,
the 7th to the 12th days of the
last month of the Islamic year.
More on Islam and Pilgrimage
Other sites have become important pilgrimage
destinations since the 7th century.
One example: the Dome of the Rock (on the
Temple Mount in Jerusalem), which
commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s
“Night Journey.”
Other shrines are dedicated to holy men and to
descendents of the Prophet.
Evliya Celebi (1611-1684)
One of most famous writers from
the Ottoman Empire.
Son of chief court jeweler under
Sultan Murad IV.
After formal education, enters
“palace school” and prepped
to serve Sultan by learning
book making, calligraphy,
and other fine arts.
In 1630 has a dream in which
Muhammad tells him to
travel. Spends rest of his life
on road.
Seyahatname (Book of Travels)
From 1630-1640, Celebi explores
all of Istanbul.
From 1640-84 travels through the
rest of the empire. Sometimes
on own; sometimes as sultan’s
emissary; sometimes tagging
along with government
Celebi writes a massive
multivolume work detailing
his journeys.
Ottoman Lands, 17th century
Seyahatname and the City of Boudonitza
Extract that we read mixes genres: war story;
travel story; and saint’s life.
Who is the saint? Why is he a saint?
How does his shrine compare to the city? Is the
shrine a “middle world”? If so—for whom?
Do you believe Evliya Celebi’s narrative? Or
better: do you believe him all of the time?
What implicit argument(s) does Celebi make on
behalf of pilgrimage?
Perpetual Pilgrimage
• Celebi’s Seyahatname is a multivolume testament
to knowledge acquired during a lifelong
pilgrimage. Is he a “nomad”?
• Many religious traditions compare life to a
pilgrimage that only ends with our deaths (e.g. St.
Augstine: We are all pilgrims wandering in the
regio dissimilitudinis, the “land of unlikeliness”).
How would you interpret this metaphor?
• Are there still “sacred places” – or ways of entering
“sacred time” – in the modern world?
Course, Part Two: A Quick Recap
In Part One, we discussed the relationship between embodiment, perception,
change, and movement.
In Part Two, we have been using these ideas to make sense of different
kinds of narratives and images—fictional and nonfictional—that record
experiences of travel.
We’ve discussed travel as a potentially confusing “middle world” of risk &
possibility, where new forms of knowledge & perception can emerge—
but also where violence & destruction can occur.
We’ve ended with pilgrimage partly because it’s perhaps the most “risky” of
middle worlds—on the edge of life & death, human & divine. Even in
the middle world, pilgrims are often marked as “other.”
Toward Part Three
Not every religious tradition
emphasizes the relation
between human and divine.
Zen Buddhism, for example,
teaches the essential
nothingness that underlies all
Consider the Ryoanji rock
garden: raked sand and
random outcroppings of rock.
No central image, no focal
point for a visitor to stand.
Maybe—just maybe -- one can
think about travel & middle
worlds otherwise than from
the viewpoint of individual