Secular and Religious Pilgrimage: a collaborative autoethnographic journey to meaningful destinations

Elizabeth Lloyd-Parkes, Jonathan Deacon, Simon Thomas, Tina Thomas, Alexander Boswell, Jason Wragg, Kevin Ellis

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    This sequential, community autoethnography draws upon the stories told by seven academics and ‘becoming’ academics related to their experience of pilgrimage, either secular or religious. The autoethnographic contributions were written sequentially, with authors having sight of the autoethnographies as they were written. We draw on literature related to pilgrimage and consider how this transfers from its original, religious context to a contemporary, more secular application, whilst still having an element of spirituality attached to the journey or destination.

    It is worth mentioning that all participants are either Welsh, or have completed their pilgrimages within Wales, which gives a particular socio-cultural context to the journeys. Of the seven autoethnographic contributions, three relate to physical, sporting activities and the completion of a long-held dream, the road to fulfilment of which can be considered to be a pilgrimage in itself. The first contribution (Jason’s) relates to a kayaking trip within the liminal space that is neither sea nor land, off the coast of Anglesey, an island on the north Wales coast in the UK. This secular pilgrimage account is countered by an Anglican priest (Kevin) living in the same area of Wales, relating his personal, internal pilgrimage. The third account (Alex’s) relates to a post-Catholic inner journey that consisted of a physical expedition to a Welsh beauty spot with Hare Krishna devotees, and the fourth (Simon’s), a long dreamed-of pilgrimage to the grave of a musical hero. The fifth (Tina’s) and sixth (Jonathan’s) contributions deal respectively with the pilgrimage of extreme athletes to the Ironman event held in Tenby, a coastal town in South Wales, and a marathon cycling event from London to Paris. The final autoethnography (Lizzie’s) relates to a long-awaited, non-religious pilgrimage to a religious place - a monastic island off the coast of South Wales. The diversity of the journeys allow us to consider the contemporary nature of pilgrimage, and to consider this within our own cultural settings.

    We find that the themes of anticipation and awakening emerge in these contributions alongside a strong focus on liminality - the occupation of a position on both sides of a boundary, whether physical or virtual. The theme of travel - in some cases, strenuous - has parallels with tourism activities, although there also appears to be a spiritual dimension to the experiences described. Liminality is described reflexively and is therefore multi-layered, and stratified through time, emotion and anticipation. We also note that some of the contributions relate to a pilgrimage of the mind, with some of the more strenuous, endorphin-fueled activities bringing an internal liminality related to physical exhaustion. We find that both the journey and the destination become a stage-gate for reflection and meditation and this further extends the theme of liminality. Furthermore, we discuss the notion of communitas, and the social nature of pilgrimage, both secular and religious and the importance of companionship on the pilgrim’s journey. Finally, and collectively, we consider the journey that each of us has made in the writing of these autoethnographies, and the way in which we have collaborated with and been influenced, each by the others.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2022
    EventInternational Symposium on Autoethnographic and Narrative 2022 - St Pete's, Florida, USA, St Pete's, United States
    Duration: 3 Jan 20224 Jan 2022


    ConferenceInternational Symposium on Autoethnographic and Narrative 2022
    Abbreviated titleISAN 2022
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CitySt Pete's
    Internet address


    • autoethnography
    • pilgrimage
    • collaborative autoethnography
    • secular pilgrimage
    • narrative research
    • qualitative research


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