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Contesting the Sacred was intended by the editors as an intervention into what was at the time the dominant

analytical practices of pilgrimage studies; the chapters selected for the anthology were selected precisely because John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow thought that they matched their vision for a new methodology1. The Introduction, written by the editors, frames the arguments of the chapters in order to emphasise this methodological agenda. This is not an uncommon practice in preparing anthologies, but it is worth keeping in mind, because I am not here interested in the fairness or accuracy of the presentation of the chapters, only in the agenda being forwarded by Eade and Sallnow through this presentation. The editors were completely frank about their intentions: the analytical emphasis of pilgrimage studies must shift from accounts of the features and functions of pilgrimage towards an investigation of how the practice of pilgrimage and the sacred powers of a shrine are constructed as varied and possibly conflicting representations by the different sectors of the cultic constituency, and indeed by those outside it as well.2 This analytic emphasis on the pilgrimage and shrine as polysemic void capable of accommodating diverse meanings and practices3 is set against what they call functionalism or correspondence theory (with Emile Durkheim as the apparent source) and the approach of Victor Turner. According to Eade and Sallnow, functionalism argues that pilgrimages serve to weld together diverse local communities instilling in the participants a consciousness of a wider and more inclusive identity, and this is part of the process in the formation of a cultural or national identity; Turner, in contrast sees pilgrimage as a liminal phenomenon [that] always tends towards communitas, a state of unmediated and egalitarian association between individuals which therefore tends to abrogate secular social structures. Their critique of Turner rests on the empirical weakness of the model which imposes a spurious homogeneity on the practice of pilgrimage in widely differing historical and cultural settings. This critique basically extends to the functionalist model as well.4 In contrast to these models, the emphasis on the contestation of meaning around the pilgrimage means that the thrust of our analytical method should ... be towards the examination of the specific peculiarities of [the sacred centre's] construction in each [particular] instance. 5 Contesting the Sacred was therefore a valuable strike against the symbolic violence of these hegemonic models and against the monological view of religious ideology (as emanating almost exclusively from official discourse) which buttressed it. Still, Eade and Sallnow clearly tossed some baby out with the bathwater of their predecessors. The issue is not precisely in their methodology, narrowly understood, but in the research priorities for which this methodology is mobilised. Turner, and certainly Durkheim, both at least had the virtue of attending to what Fredric Jameson has called the absolute horizon of all reading and interpretation: the destiny of the human race as a whole 6, or, with less grandiloquence, politics. The movement of their analysis was from the narrow to the expansive, Eade and Sallnow move in the opposite direction. This movement exists at every level of the analysis. They take a general model of ideology formed outside of their discipline, and narrow its scope to the dissection of pilgrimage locales. Similarly, the political surrounds of each specific locale exists basically as an interpretative tool for that locale's analysis. Their discussion of each locale basically follows the same two steps: [1] demarcate and analyse the historical/economic/political context of a particular sacred locale, [2] use this to pars the competing discourses which the various people bring to that locale.7 What follows from this is typically some methodological generalisations relevant to other pilgrimages.8 This may seem unremarkable, until we remember that they are proposing a total paradigm shift in the field. Does such a move really have no consequences for wider society? For example, it is surely strange and possibly irresponsible that at no point do the editors suggest that their new understanding of the sacred as 'void' has implications for any other focal points of ideology, or even for religious ideology as a whole. At no point, even implicitly, is the most basic question posed: what, besides idle curiosity, would move anyone who isn't a devote Christian or shrine-frequenter to spend more than two seconds on the idiosyncrasies of Lourdes or the cult of Padre Pio? This

basically reinforces and capitulates to the dangerous esotericism of academia and its policing of disciplinary boundaries. What is missing is a third step: having thoroughly analysed the competing discourses of a shrine, it should then be situated back into a political context, not the initial narrow one which provided the basis of the first analysis, but the wide one suggested by Jameson. Without this step, the analysis remains, in the most literal sense of the word, uninteresting; that is, no one besides traders in esoterica has any obvious stake in it. On the other hand, if this step were taken successfully, these apparently idiosyncratic communities would be revealed to be part of a larger system of conflict and struggle in which all of humanity is unavoidably implicated. Put bluntly, the third step shows what pilgrimage studies has to teach us about humanity beyond the pilgrimage. Attention to the political horizon is the chief virtue of the voracious, wide ranging, theoretical ambition of systematic thinkers like Durkheim (or even Foucault, who seems to be the unnamed but politically de-clawed father of the this text) and which is lost in the micro-sociology of the new method being proposed.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow, Introduction, Contesting the Sacred: the anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 1 Ibid. p. 5 Ibid. p. 15 Ibid. p. 3-5 Ibid. p. 9 Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 1981) pp. 1 and 15 Eade and Sallnow pp. 2, 3, 7-8, 14, 18-19 Ibid. especially 9 and 15-16

References: Eade, Eade and Michael J. Sallnow, Introduction, Contesting the Sacred: the anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 1-29 Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 1981)