Pilgrimage can be better understood as a particular kind of semiotic activity, that is, as a process of production, transmission, and reception of meaning through languages, texts, and discourses. Research on the topic of pilgrimage seems stalled nowadays between older interpretations concerning the “liminoid” and “communitas-like” character of this phenomenon, explorations of cultic sites conceived as “empty vessels” for competing discourses, and the assimilation of pilgrimage into the problem of tourism and motion. This book seeks to overcome the current lack of convincing theorization by proposing a new understanding of this cultural practice, through the methodological lens of contemporary continental semiotics. Instead of trying to wedge this complex practice into a static and exclusive definition, the author interrogates the conditions of possibility of this phenomenon. The question “What is pilgrimage?” thus becomes “When is pilgrimage?” Through historical and ethnographic examples as well as case studies conducted in Japan, pilgrimage emerges as a transformative process involving subjects in search of identity. This process strategically employs ritual space, narration, and memory through the performative use of body and experience.
Tatsuma Padoan, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, United Kingdom.