Following my field-work on spiritual tourism and meditation in Chiang Mai, I (with Michael Di Giovine at West Chester University, US, Michael Hitchcock at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK, and Michael O’ Regan at Bournemouth University, UK) organized two panel sessions on Geographies of Religion and Spirituality: beyond ‘officially’ sacred at the Royal Geographical Society conference in London, 2016. The sessions had 9 interesting and diverse papers from the U.K., U.S., Ireland, Thailand, Norway and Australia. The panelists were from disciplines and fields as diverse as Geography, Anthropology, tourism studies, event management, art and design and natural resource management. I am currently communicating with several editors to make a decision as which journal these papers may be published under a special issue theme.
We also had stimulating discussions over 4 hours at the conference.
Pilgrims and tourists exist on a continuum of sacredness and secularity, and the distinction between tourism/pilgrimage, tourist/pilgrim, and secular/sacred is rather complex. While there have been ongoing discussions about categorizing ‘pilgrims’ and/or ‘tourists,’ it is still challenging despite frequent attempts. Thus, in these panel sessions, we discussed how religious spaces are central to the lives of pilgrims, and how these religious spaces have meanings to pilgrims and tourists. Beyond the ‘officially sacred,’ we explored the meanings of religious space to pilgrims and tourists to provide a blueprint for how work in the geography of religion and the field of religious tourism may move forward. I believe we have achieved moving forward with the on-going discussions and theorization process all together as an interdisciplinary team. Links to more photos: