Contemporary pilgrimage in Ireland: a cultural geographic perspective

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Scriven, Richard
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University College Cork
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Using the lenses of contemporary cultural geography, this research develops an understanding of pilgrimage as a relational and reciprocal process that co-produces self and world. Drawing on the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, I argue that through the performances and experiences of contemporary pilgrimage in Ireland, participants and locations emerge as pilgrims and pilgrimage places. This approach unites different strands of cultural geography, including the mobilities field, more-than representational concerns, discussions of embodiment and practice, emotional and affective geographies, and religious and spiritual geographies. I explore how pilgrimage is an active process in which self and world, belief and practice, and the numinous and material entwine and merge. An autoethnographic methodology is enacted as an embodied, intersubjective, and reflexive research approach that incorporates the motivations, experiences, and beliefs of research participants, alongside my own descriptions and reflections. The methodology is focused on encountering and documenting pilgrimage practices as they occur in place and relating these embodied spatial practices to the accounts of pilgrims. The insights generated by engagements with research participants and through my own pilgrimages, offer new appreciations of the enduring appeal of pilgrimage in Ireland as a religious-spiritual and cultural activity that allows people to express personal intentions, to develop their faith, and to seek numinous encounters. Through the pilgrimages at Lough Derg, Croagh Patrick, and three holy wells, I produce a layered account of the empirical circumstances of the practices. The presentation of these places and events is enhanced by the use of evocative images and audiovisual recordings. By centring my study on the practices and experiences of different pilgrimages in present-day Ireland, and critically deploying strands of cultural geography and pilgrimage studies, this research produces new qualitative understandings of pilgrimage and contributes to discussions concerned with the relationships between self and world.
Geography , Cultural Geography , Pilgrimage , Phenomenology , Ireland
Scriven, R. 2015. Contemporary pilgrimage in Ireland: a cultural geographic perspective. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.