Modern Pilgrimage as Carnival: Reflections on an Alternative Cultural Performance

Dr. Tirza Hechter
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Throughout the past thirty years pilgrimage to sages’ shrines in Israel, in the form of bus excursions (pilgrimage excursions), has become a popular scene in Israel. This trend is not necessarily an outcome of religious observance. A central theme in the voluminous literature of sociologists and anthropologists, focused on pilgrimage excursions in Israel, is that religious sectors in Israel visit these shrines to fulfill traditional and/or religious customs, and to enact religious tradition.

In contradiction to this trend, at least schematically, those who stick to relatively more secular Jewish views, take these pilgrimage excursions as a kind of tourism. These sectors perceive the sages’ shrines as popular spheres. Aspects of popular culture as an integral part of such pilgrimage excursions were mentioned only as secondary impressions. The atmosphere around these sages’ shrines was rarely portrayed as carnivalistic.

For Russian literary theorist and philosopher, Mikhail Bakhtin, the carnivals and popular festivals of the Middle Ages and Renaissance were extremely important attendance social context that could teach us much about how to burst open and transform traditional closed discourses. Bakhtin championed carnival because he saw it as a social sphere that embraced freedom and equality, and that created possibilities for learning and positive change.

This article is part of a wider research project that includes visits and video recording in the most popular sages’ shrines in the north of Israel. It uses lessons of Bakhtin’s carnival to critically examine this phenomenon, taking place extensively in modern Israel. My strategy is to portray these pilgrimage excursions as a form of carnival. This enables me to articulate problems that have not been confronted in recent research on secular pilgrimage excursions. At the same time, the portrayal of these pilgrimage excursions as carnival helps me to affirm what I take to be the core of these pilgrimage excursion implications – a vision of secular pilgrimage excursions as a social setting that liberates the participants from strict religious customs in the short-run, and enables a better understanding between religious and secular Jewish populations in Israel, in the long-run.

Keywords: Bakhtin's Carnival, Modern Pilgrimage-Excursions, Israel, Secular Jews
Stream: Ethnicity, Difference, Identity, Religion, Spirituality
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Modern Pilgrimage as Carnival

Dr. Tirza Hechter

Associate Lecturer, Department of Political Science and Mass Communication, Tzfat Regional College, Bar-Ilan University

Dr. Tirza Hechter is a lecturer in Political Science and Mass Communications. She is a member of the Israeli Communication Society, The History of Political and Social Concepts International Group, attends international and national conferences in her areas of specialization - Political Myths, Political Communication, Political Rhetoric, New Media Culture, and publishes in these areas.

Ref: H06P0591