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Philippe BACHIMON Avignon University

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Théry HERVE São Paulo University

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The pilgrimage to the Virgin, Tinos, Cyclades, Greece.

The procession of the miraculous image on August 15, the Day of the Dormition [the ascent of the Virgin Mary to Heaven], attracts a large number of pilgrims who have come to Tinos for the occasion, but also tourists and summer visitors to the island

Maria Gravari-Barbas, 2018.


The relationship between religion and leisure, two social practices and two cultural movements that have renewed importance in the 21st century, is not without ambiguity, even though after Nietzsche (for whom "God was dead") we might consider that the second would either prevail over the first, or erase it by invalidating it as relevant only in the dark ages.
But we are witnessing a reemergence of religion in the 21st century, after a century of the secularization of society (republican secularism, communist and fascist ideologies ...) even recalling the 19th century, (when missions to reconquer Christianity blunted by the Revolution and colonialism), or even the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula followed the Conquista in Latin America in the 15th and 16th centuries. The form that this return of the religious dimension takes, however, is different in the 21st century, in post-modern society where, by definition, everything can take on a value (i.e. become marketable to say the least), it has a dimension that brings it clearly closer to tourism.

The Touristification of Religion

In addition, forms appear similar to tourism, as defined by INSEE: “Tourism includes those activities deployed by people during their trips and stays in places outside their usual environment for a continuous period that does not exceed one year, for leisure purposes, for business and other reasons not related to the exercise of a remunerated activity in the place visited”.
Whether they are monuments (cathedrals, monasteries or chapels, synagogues, mosques or Protestant churches, Buddhist temples ...), but also religious events (the pilgrimages of Lourdes, Mecca, Qom) there is a strong tendency to see these forms as tourism products. For instance, Christmas markets, merchants of the temple of Lourdes, even paying visits to religious buildings are all considered touristic, and Mecca becomes a "religious destination" with its restaurants, terraces, luxury hotels, and its hammams.

Certainly pilgrimages have always needed a set of logistics to transport the faithful, to house them, and to feed them, but the recent massification has caused a change of dimension: Mecca, Lourdes, Fatima receive millions of visitors each year. The Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage, is organized successively in the holy cities of Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh), Haridwar (Uttaranchal), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh) and Nashik (Maharashtra). Every twelve years the Purna Kumbh Mela, or large Kumbh Mela, takes place in Prayag. Several million people take part in it, which makes it probably the largest pilgrimage in the world: during the Purna Kumbh Mela in 2001, 70 million people followed each other on the banks of the Ganges in three weeks, including 40 million in one day. Finally, the Maha Kumbh Mela is held every 144 years, after twelve Purna Kumbh Mela, the last one took place in 2013 and welcomed more than 100 million people.

Cohabitation problems

A question raised is that of the cohabitation between tourists (a priori “passive” and “non-participative” voyeurs) who come and may disturb the rites. Solutions to this problem range from prohibition (as in Mecca and Medina) to integration. There are also political issues, especially in terms of communication and recognition, and proselytism. Conversely, regional development policies encourage pilgrims to do tourism, for example, outside of the strictly religious space in Mecca (see thesis by Khaled Alzhrani on Saudi Arabia).


Without too much theoretical or conceptual risk, we could say that hybridization characterizes the tourism/religion relationship. Tourism is certainly a worldly event (to experience a “terrestrial paradise” in the here-below for example) but ultimately it is also a form of paganism (the experience of terrestrial paradise remains a belief which challenges - undermines - monotheisms). It can appear as a new religion as soon as it offers experiences in the form of yoga courses in Ashrams, psychedelic ayahuasca experiences, retreats of "healing" in monasteries ... and conversely, religious practice borrows more and more components from tourism (travel agencies, air flights, chain hotels, standardized catering ... regulations for tourist travel).

The Basilica of de Nossa Senhora Aparecida

The Basilica of de Nossa Senhora Aparecida (the patron saint of Brazil), in the State of São Paulo, receives 11 to 12 million pilgrims per year.

Hervé Théry 2012.

The touristic gradient

Religious is a well-known important feature in cultural tourism. It is encountered most often “cold”, tourists fortuitously visit sites or monuments that are no longer in active use; sometimes it is even a question of reinterpreting their religious character. Examples might include the Mayan or Aztec pyramids, Polynesian marae but also Angkor Wat, mountains and other sacred peaks. There are also “lukewarm” cases such as for example the monuments of Christendom which we visit all the more (in Europe at least) because they are less frequented by the faithful or because they are neglected by their clergy (monasteries used for retreats, historic routes leading to Santiago de Compostela).

Finally, the question of "hot" tourism arises when religion is dominant (we could immediately mention the Wailing Wall). This induces bans in both directions, non-Muslims being forbidden to enter mosques in Morocco or visiting certain ancient archaeological sites, raising the subject of the doxa, for Muslim pilgrims in Mecca for example). One case that deserves special attention is that of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was both a place of worship and a major tourist site, whose fire in 2019 showed how for many it is a strong symbol of Frenchness.

A souvenir shop in Kathmandu on a Buddhist pilgrimage site

Philippe Bachimon

The relationship between these two significant phenomena (tourism and religion) is not straightforward. It deserves a thematic issue of Via@ dedicated to the topic. We thus invite the authors of different disciples to propose articles, but also short essays, maps or significant photos or reviews of books on this theme.


Proposals can be submitted in the form of scientific articles not exceeding 40,000 characters.

All the proposals can be submitted by email to viatourismreview@univ-paris1.frphilippe.bachimon@univ-avignon.frThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. before March 31st, 2021.

They can be written in French, English, German, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese or Italian.