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Pilgrims and Travellers in Search of the Holy

René Gothóni

The enigma of Buddhism, and especially Tibetan Buddhism, has enchanted Westerners for centuries. Most of the papers in this volume were delivered at the ‘Pilgrims and Travellers in Search of the Holy’ international symposium convened at the University of Helsinki on 18 October 2008.
The symposium focused on Buddhist and Hindu sites from a comparative perspective, bringing together a team of established international scholars and younger researchers working on their doctoral theses, all with extensive experience of field research. This volume therefore comprises a theoretical part and an empirical part. The former discusses universal aspects of pilgrimage and travel, whereas the latter focuses on Buddhist and some Hindu sites in West Bengal, China, India, Japan, Russia, and Tibet. For decades the unsettled political conditions in Tibet have made it difficult for scholars to enter the holy sites. This book offers new insights into how traditional Tibetan holy sites attract both Tibetan pilgrims and secular Chinese in an intriguing and harmonious way.

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Part One - Theoretical Aspects of Pilgrimage Studies 9

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part one Theoretical Aspects of Pilgrimage Studies rené gothóni Pilgrimage: Three Theoretical Interpretations Turner’s ellipse theory: outer pilgrimage Edith and Victor Turner have argued that pilgrimage follows the struc- tural pattern of rites of passage: separation (the departure), the liminal stage (the journey itself) and re-aggregation (the homecoming). This, which I have called the ellipse theory, differs from initiation in the rites of passage in that the transition is to a religious centre ‘out there’ and not over a challenging threshold that confirms the change in the individual’s social status, pilgrimage to Mecca being the exception. The middle stage, or the period of being away, is characterised by ‘an awareness of temporary release from social ties and a strong sense of communitas’, i.e. fellowship, but also by simplicity of dress and sponta- neity of behaviour, a sense of physical ordeal and intellectual reflection on one’s (inherited) religion. Movement, be it physical, intellectual or spiritual, is the pilgrim’s predicament. It is a holistic force drawing him or her to a pilgrimage centre with its spiritual magnetism.1 There is more than one ellipse on the way to the pilgrimage centre, ‘a series of overlapping, interpenetrating ellipses whose common area of overlap has the shrine at its centre. Each of these ellipses constitutes a pilgrimage route … with its own socio-geographical surrounds.’2 1 E. Turner, ‘Pilgrimage’, Encyclopedia of Religion. Second edition 10 (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005), 7144–8. 2 V. Turner and E. Turner, Images and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture. An...

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