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Sacred Journeys: Pilgrimage and Holy Places


Admission requirements

This course is open to students of the MA Asian Studies (Research), the MA Middle Eastern Studies (Research), the MA Asian Studies (60 EC): History, Arts and Culture of Asia, the MA International Relations, the MA Middle Eastern Studies, the MA Religious Studies, and to Exchange and Study Abroad students as an individual course of Exchange Humanities.

Preferably, students have some basic knowledge of and interest in the anthropology and sociology of religion.

Students who lack this knowledge are advised to read D.L. Pals, Eight Theories of Religion (Oxford 2006) before the start of the course.

Note that this course is offered in two different versions: 5 EC at 500 level and 10 EC at 500 level.


This course aims to provide students with knowledge of and insights into the development, function and meaning of pilgrimage and sainthood in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, both historical and contemporary. The scholarly inquiry into the diversity of religious expressions and behavior 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. The religious, social, cultural, political and material aspects of pilgrimage and its rites have produced a variety of scholarly interpretations.

In this course we will study examples of pilgrimage and sainthood in historical and contemporary Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and Africa, and specifically examine the theoretical orientations being used to interpret them. The course consists of two parts. In the first part, a series of lectures will offer an interpretative and theoretical framework in addition to regional perspectives; in the second, the student will present their own research in preparation of the written term paper.

Course Objectives

After successfully completing the course, the student is able:

  • to provide an in-depth overview of the ritual practice of the sacred journeys discussed in class;

  • to recognize the various theoretical perspectives informing the study of these pilgrimages and holy places;

  • to conduct a critical literature review of a particular pilgrimage or holy place;

  • to report about it orally and in writing.



Mode of instruction


Lectures by the instructors and a few guest experts, as well as oral presentations by students.
Attendance is mandatory and participation in discussions consists in 10% of the grade. Each student is expected to have done the assigned readings and to have submitted pertinent assignments in time.

Bring the books or handouts we are working with to each meeting. The conveners need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course. In case of unforeseen absences make sure to have another student report on what you missed; you are responsible for seminar information and announcements whether present or not.

Course Load

Total course load (5 EC x 28 hours) 140 hours
weekly meetings 13 x 2 hrs 26 hours
weekly reading assignments (450 pages) 60 hrs
7 assignments (Q&Cs) consisting of (a) a summary of the main arguments of the literature assigned for the class (maximum of three paragraphs) (b) a question or statement about an issue raised in the literature or a specific quotation that you would like to discuss and (c) brief comments about why you selected the question, statement or quotation 14 hours
study on pilgrimage of one’s choice:
reading 24 hours
presentation 8 hours
final paper of 1000 to 1500 words consisting of a summary of the main arguments and a critical discussio 8 hours

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to the blackboard through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Attendance and participation 10%
Individual presentation (of the final paper) 30%
Final paper MA-students: 1,000 - 1,500 words 60%

Oral presentations
Oral presentations last around 30 minutes. In the oral presentation, the student presents her or his plans for the final paper and critically discusses the literature that he or she will use.

Final paper
The final 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.

Late submissions of the final version will result in a deduction of paper grades as follows: 1-24 hrs late = -0.5; 24-48 hrs late = -1.0; 48-72 hrs late = -1.5; 72-96 hrs late = -2.0. Late papers will not be accepted more than four days after the deadline, including weekends and will be graded with 1.0.

(The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convener of the course.)

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

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


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the paper is possible (60%). In that case the convener of the course will assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.

A resit of the presentation and participation is not possible.

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the final results, a review of the end term paper will be organized.


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 students are required to have read at least the following article prior to the first meeting of the course: S. Coleman, “Do you believe in pilgrimage? Communitas, contestation and beyond”, Anthropological Theory 2/3 (2002), 355–368 (this article can be easily downloaded via the University Library webcatalogue).


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 “USIS-Actnbr.”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.




Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.