Geography Program (SNR)


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Published in PILGRIMAGE IN THE OLD AND NEW WORLD, edited by S. M. Bhardwaj, G. Rinschede, & A. Sievers (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1994), pp. 17-36. Copyright 1994 Dietrich Reimer Verlag.


In their quest to learn more details about pilgrimages, geographers have trudged along many sacred trails and have experienced the jostling of numerous religious crowds. Such experiential studies about particular pilgrimage events have contributed greatly to our accumulating knowledge of pilgrimages. Along with these detailed accounts of specific pilgrimages, however, we also need to examine this phenomenon from a global perspective. This is not to imply that a broad view of pilgrimages in a variety of settings is necessarily better or more enlightening than a detailed study of a particular pilgrimage event. Nevertheless, research on the general geographic characteristics of pilgrims and pilgrimages is somewhat limited. Major exceptions are the monumental work on Christian pilgrimages undertaken by NOLAN AND NOLAN (1989) who have combined extensive field work with comprehensive analyses, and the comprehensive study by BHARDWAJ (1973) of Hindu pilgrimages in India. This general lack of worldwide studies of pilgrimages is illustrated by the fact that when this particular study was initiated, no map or comprehensive listing of major pilgrimage places for all religions of the world was available. 2 Such a list is past due. Having a standardized list of the major pilgrimages of the world is essential for establishing principles of geographic behavior associated with such religious phenomena. The primary goals of this study, therefore, are twofold: (1) to map the spatial distribution of the major pilgrimage places in the world and (2) to generalize their locations based on observed relationships. Prior to the construction of a map of world pilgrimages, it is critical to consider some of the difficulties encountered in this task. Here attention is focused primarily on the definition of "pilgrimage" and on the meaning of "major."

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