Sacred Snapshots

On its surface, a vacation to Las Vegas and a pilgrimage to
Mecca couldn’t be more different. Partaking of the former usually
means succumbing to decadence, gambling, and sloth. The latter,
meanwhile, represents the holiest of acts. But the treks may not be
as different as they seem,
Pendle argues in an opinion piece for Bidoun

The link between tourism and pilgrimage goes at least as far
back as 1498, with the publication of Informacion for Pylgrymes
unto the Holy Londe
. The book, Pendle notes, is a precursor to
today’s travel guides, providing useful information for navigating
a foreign land. Indeed, pilgrimages have been the cause of travel
for centuries, gathering multitudes from far and wide.

Given that pilgrimage and tourism are historically linked,
Pendle wonders if there is ‘something of the sacred left in the
tourist’s experience today?’ Eschewing an automatic condemnation of
modern day tourism as wasteful and bloated, Pendle looks deeper and
finds that tourists share the pilgrim’s hope for transcendence and
exultation. ‘Tourists, like pilgrims, seek recreation in the
fullest sense of the word.’ The Ka’bah in Mecca and the Bellagio in
Las Vegas both hold the promise of transcendence via ‘union with

A more explicit connection can be found in the West Bank, a
place that’s seen its fair share of pilgrims. A new breed of
tourism has cropped up there that hovers somewhere between
pilgrimage and secular revelry.
Writing for
DragonFire, Sara Toth reports
that ‘alternative
tourism’ — reality tours of a place’s political, cultural, and
economic situation — has taken hold in the area. It developed as
an antidote to the failing pilgrimage tourism industry, which has
fallen on hard times since the Israeli government constructed walls
separating Israel from Palestinian territories.

While alternative tourism focuses on an area’s social climate,
such tours, argues Virginia Tech professor Nancy McGehee, turn out
to be ‘introspective experience[s],’ with the tourist finding
larger meaning for his or her life in the process of coming to know
a place. Modern tourists, Pendle asserts, are ‘forever communing
with representations.’ So, too, is the alternative tourist, whether
touching a graffiti-laden wall or passing through a militarized

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