The Medieval Review 15.11.22

Herbers, Klaus, and Hans Christian Lehner, eds. Unterwegs im Namen der Religion / On the Road in the Name of Religion: Pilgern als Form von Kontigenzbewältigung und Zukunftssicherung in den Weltreligionen / Pilgrimage as a Means of Coping with Contingency and Fixing the Future in the World's Major Religions. Beiträge zur Hagiographie, 15. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014. pp. 152. ISBN: 978-3-515-10777-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
The University of Arizona

The papers in this volume were first presented at an interdisciplinary symposium at the University of Erlangen in Germany November 10-11, 2011 (although this location is never mentioned). Subsequently Klaus Herbers (Erlangen), Carlos Alvar (Madrid), and Angél Goméz Moreno (Madrid) organized a second symposium (November 16-18, 2014) at San Millán de la Cogolla (in Spain, east of Burgos) with the same topic on a broader basis. Those papers could not yet be included in the present book, but Hans Christian Lehner now provides a summary of the presentations online. [1]

Some of the authors have written their articles in German, and others in English, but there are no abstracts. The volume begins with Klaus Herbers's general comments about the topic to be dealt with, and concludes with Hans Christian Lehner's summary of the individual papers. There is no index, but a list of the authors with their university affiliations and addresses. Why are their emails and web-pages missing?

The central concern pertains to the phenomenon of pilgrimage mostly in the pre-modern world on a global scale, and the reader will be impressed by the enormous scope pursued here, including discussions of pilgrimage in West and East, although the situation in the Americas, Africa, and Australia is not taken into consideration. The subtitle places great emphasis on pilgrimage as a form of coming to terms with contingency and as an effort to secure the well-being of one's soul in the afterlife (the English used here seems stilted and unclear). Contingency implies that one's life is unstable and unsteady, since human existence is determined by constant change, as Boethius had already indicated in his Consolatio philosophiae (525). How pilgrimage can be associated with contingency remains somewhat unclear, whereas the second component can certainly be identified as the central interest pursued by all pilgrims throughout time and in all cultures. Herbers in his introductory remarks indicates only that the pilgrim perceives him/herself as a peregrinus here in this world, but then turns to the much more mundane motivations for most pilgrims to receive spiritual help for extraordinary problems in this life, which could be regarded as contingency after all.

Andreas Nehring approaches the issue of pilgrimage by way of theoretical reflections about the need to carry out comparative analysis in the history of religion, which he illuminates by way of focusing on the pilgrim's search for the sanctity of the relic, the site, or the building, and this all over the world. He differentiates among the various approaches to pilgrimage and analyzes the function of ritual and performance as fundamental for this religious voyage throughout time. From very early on, pilgrimage has been a mass phenomenon, which Richard Landes describes in general and specific-historical terms.

Even the crusades could be identified as a form of pilgrimage, but the masses of pilgrims to the Holy Land really arrived only after the fall of Acre to the Muslims in 1291. Nevertheless, as Hannes Möhring notes in his contribution, many times even royalty joined the crusades, since the pressure to devote oneself to a religious call was great, as much research has already observed. Herbers then examines the history of the pilgrimage to St. Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg (Donegal), but he does not include any references to literary treatments, such as by Marie de France (ca. 1180/1190) and the anonymous author of Fortunatus (1509).

Charles Caspers offers a useful, though by no means innovative survey of the various types of Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages and beyond, which also includes, however, comments on pilgrimages in the Dutch-speaking areas. From here on the global perspective opens up, which makes this volume really interesting after all. Cyril Aslanov provides a critical discussion of Jewish pilgrimages to grave sites of famous rabbis during the Middle Ages. Parallel to him, Gerald Hawting develops a useful and expert analysis of Muslim pilgrimages (Hajj and Umra) in the same time period. The economic aspects supporting a Muslim pilgrimage are the topic of Heiko Schuß's contribution. However, he quickly moves to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, exposing the purely monetary interests by various countries, rulers, companies, and organizations in supporting and maintaining pilgrimages.

From here the focus turns to Asia, since Karin Juliana Steiner examines pilgrimages to sacred sites in Brahmanic-Sanscrit Hinduism. She also refers to the term "contingency" (107), but this seems to be more of a fig-leaf than a really useful concept to analyze this phenomenon. Buddhistic pilgrimage in Japan has always been of great concern for all faithful there, as Katja Triplett describes in her contribution, emphasizing, above all the famous Shikoku pilgrimage route. Again, this is not a new topic, as she admits herself (111), but Western readers can enjoy her article with considerable profit for comparative purposes, such as when she notes that the pilgrimage offered the possibility to visit an imaginary world located in a temple or at a shrine (127).

Robert André LaFleur concludes this volume with his study of the pilgrimage to Mt. Tai, Mt. Heng, and other sacred mountainous heights in the Shandong province of China, highly popular until today. He combines this with theoretical reflections on the creation of religious energy (Emile Durkheim), on the microeconomic conditions supporting and charging the pilgrims, the habitus associated with pilgrimage (Pierre Bourdieu), and the spaces where the pilgrimage is headed for (Henri Lefebvre).

Although this is a slim volume, the content proves to be rich and expansive, clearly supporting the claim that pilgrimage has always been a universal and timeless phenomenon still of great importance until today. Western medieval historians will not find much new here in those articles dealing with Christian pilgrimage, and Eastern medieval historians will probably have to admit the same for their topics, but the combination of all those articles in one volume represents a major step forward in terms of our research on pilgrimage as such.




Copyright (c) 2015 Albrecht Classen

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