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Pilgrimages and Holy Places


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or the MA Asian Studies (research). Please, contact Prof. Dr. J. van der Vliet, if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of the either Research Master.


The practice of pilgrimage, visiting holy or symbolic places, often but not exclusively on privileged occasions, occupies an important place in cultures worldwide. The religious, social, political and material aspects of pilgrimage and its rites have given rise to a wide variety of judgments and interpretations, both in inside sources and in scholarly literature. Recent contributions from archaeology and the social sciences have proven particularly fruitful for our understanding of these phenomena. The course, therefore, combines a general and theoretical approach with a problem oriented review of a particular body of evidence, relevant for the study of pilgrimage in both ancient and modern cultures of the Middle East and Asia.

The course comprises two complementary parts. The first (block 3) consists of six lectures that, in addition to offering an interpretative framework, cover particular themes or topics related to pilgrimage in the Middle East and Asia (case studies). The second part (block 4) consists of oral presentations by the students, with one of the other students acting as a referee. Students are free to chose any subject in the field, after consultation of one of the tutors. The presentation can take the form of a discussion of, for example, a particular site, a relevant text or body of texts, or a class of artifacts. A written paper of about 10,000 words (20-25 pp.), covering the same subject as the oral presentation, is also part of the course requirements.

Course objectives

The aim of the course is to acquire a general knowledge of current approaches to pilgrimage and related phenomena as well as the ability to apply these to a particular body of relevant evidence from any given area of the Middle East or Asia.


The following roster is that of the Spring term of 2012; it gives a general impression of the program, but will certainly be different in 2013. The program for 2013 will be announced well in advance on the blackboard page of the course.

  • 15/2 Prof. Dr. J. van der Vliet: Ways of travelling, ways of approach

  • 22/2 Dr. J.G. Dercksen: Ancient Mesopotamia

  • 29/2 Dr. N.J.G. Kapteijn: Islam / Indonesia

  • 7/3 Prof. Dr. P.C. Bisschop: Hinduism / India

  • 14/3 Dr. A.A. Seyed Gohrab: Iran

  • 21/3 Dr. H. van der Veere: Japan

  • 4/4 Dr. M. Immerzeel: Christianity / Palestine, Syria

  • 10/4 meeting for discussion

  • 18/4-16/5 student presentations

  • 15/6: submission of the written paper

Mode of instruction

Lectures; oral presentations by the students; written paper.

Assessment method

Oral presentation (40%); written paper (60%).


Literature and other course materials will be made available on Blackboard

Reading list



Registration through uSis is compulsory.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Prof. Dr. J. van der Vliet