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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.

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becoming strangers

Becoming Strangers:

Travel, Trust, and the Everyday.

Day Fourteen: Pilgrimage

entering the middle world
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
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
Pilgrimage: The Christian Case

From the beginning, Christianity distinguished itself from Greco-Roman 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
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 pilgrimages.

pilgrimage early modern japan
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
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
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
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
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 officers.

Celebi writes a massive multivolume work detailing his journeys.

seyahatname and the city of boudonitza
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
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
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
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 appearance.

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 perceivers?