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Sacred Journeys: Pilgrimage and Holy Places (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (research) or the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research). Students admitted to the MA Religious Studies are kindly referred to the MA version of this course.


This course aims at providing students knowledge of and insights into the development, function and meaning of pilgrimage and sainthood in Europe, both historical and contemporary. The scholarly inquiry into the diversity of religious expressions and behaviour is interdisciplinary in nature and demonstrates changes in the religious landscape revealing an increasing religious pluralism in our times.
Pilgrimage is an ‘arena’ for competing religious and secular discourses, for both the official co-optation and the non-official recovery of religious meanings, for conflict between orthodoxies, sects, and confessional groups, for drives towards consensus, and for counter movements towards division. At the same time pilgrimage can be understood or identified in terms of ‘movement’: movement as performative action (effecting certain social and cultural transformations), movement as embodied action (providing the catalyst for certain kinds of bodily experiences), movement as part of a semantic field (referring to the need to contextualize the meaning of pilgrimage within local cultural understandings of mobility), and movement as metaphor (the ways in which pilgrimage-related discourses may evoke movement rather than require it).
The study of these various expressions, in most cases fluid and ambiguous, but highly dynamic and mutable, not only provides us with knowledge about people’s changing beliefs but also about the wider society in which they manifest themselves.
In this course we will study examples of pilgrimage ant sainthood in historical and contemporary Europe, and specifically examine the theoretical orientations being used to interpret them.

Course Objectives

  • carry out semi-independent research on topics related to pilgrimage,

  • present area-specific research in a cross-area and cross disciplinary environment,

  • analyse the relationship between historical and contemporary social science academic literature in a given field,

  • originate and orally present a plan for an original, small piece of research,

  • present a small (literature based)research project outcome in a professional written format.

  • When students plan to do fieldwork on the topic of pilgrimage they are supported in writing a fieldwork proposal including aspects such as research methods.


check timetable

Mode of instruction

Attendance is mandatory and participation in discussions consists in 10% of the grade. Each student is expected having done the assigned readings and prepared to discuss them with others. Bring the book or handout’s we are working on to each meeting. If an emergency requires you to miss a meeting, notify the instructor in time, and be prepared to have another student report on what you missed; you are responsible for seminar information and announcements whether present or not.

Course Load

Meetings: 12 × 2 hours = 24 hours
Extra meetings Research MA students: 6 hours
Reading assignments: 60 hours
Presentation: 40 hours
End term paper: 150 hours
Total: 280 hrs. (= 10 ects).

Assessment method

  • Individual presentation (of the final paper): 30%

  • Final paper (7,000 words): 60%

  • Attendance and participation: 10%

To pass the course, students must have received an overall mark for the course of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The end-term paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the final version, will get a failing grade.

The course is an integrated whole. All categories must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Reading material and assignments will be distributed through Blackboard.

Reading list

Reading assignments for each meeting will be posted on Blackboard in due time, but the book we are working with in this course is:
S. Coleman & J. Elsner, Pilgrimage. Past and Present in the World Religions (Cambridge, Mass. 1995).

Additional reading will be determined by the convenor at a later stage taking into account the student’s field of interest. Extra sessions will be organized to discuss the extra literature assigned to the Research MA students.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


Dr. W. Hofstee