Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

New Opportunities for Occupational Therapy through the Occupation of Contemporary Pilgrimage

Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

New Opportunities for Occupational Therapy through the Occupation of Contemporary Pilgrimage

Article excerpt

Twenty-first century pilgrimage is a journey of great personal significance not limited to traditional religiosity. The transformative potential of this diverse and evolving occupation is increasingly evidence based. This opinion piece explores the definition of contemporary pilgrimage and underlines the relevance of this occupation to occupational therapists and their clients. The exceptional accessibility of contemporary pilgrimage is described, suggesting limitless opportunities for the use of pilgrimage as a therapeutic tool. Interdisciplinary examples of promoting wellbeing through contemporary pilgrimage are then presented. This opinion piece seeks to inspire a local response to this global phenomenon.

Defining contemporary pilgrimage

Twenty-first century pilgrimage is a multifaceted and multidimensional occupation that is evolving and diversifying internationally, no longer solely associated with preconceived notions of long and arduous walks, self-sacrifice, piety or devotion. While there are an increasing variety of activities labelled as 'pilgrimage', and an increasing number of recognised pilgrimage destinations, the most widely accepted understanding of this occupation is that of making a journey of deep personal significance toward a place or a state that is sacred (or perceived as approaching a valued ideal) (Morinis 1992).

Places, landscapes, objects, experiences, virtues, political theory, text and people can come to be 'made sacred', through either individually or collectively attributed meaning. While all major religions have a tradition of pilgrimage, the distinction between religious and secular pilgrimage is sometimes highly contestable: secular pilgrimages can entail a search for deeper meaning that reflects an emancipated--and individualised--emerging religiosity. In addition to traditional religious sites, researchers in the field have investigated contemporary pilgrimages to destinations as varied as Graceland (home to Elvis Presley), in Memphis, Tennessee; 'Ground Zero', the New York City site of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center; the European sites featured in Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code; the Melbourne Cup horse race in Australia, and numerous battle sites and war graves worldwide.

Throughout history, the occupation of pilgrimage has always reflected contemporary culture and values. With the possible exception of Hajj pilgrimage, the annually occurring pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are obliged to take once in their lifetime, if they can, pilgrimage today is more often a self-defined and autonomous occupation. Internationally, on an annual basis, pilgrimage represents an enormous mass movement of people--for example, in 2001 'more than 60 million Hindu pilgrims attended the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, making it the largest human gathering in recorded history. The crowds were so huge they could apparently be seen from outer space' (Palmer and Hilliard 2011, p5). While modern transportation and communication may be central to facilitating participation, contemporary pilgrimage could also be viewed as arising from a human response to a rapidly changing, corporatised and globalised environment. As members of a profession concerned with understanding human beings as occupational beings, it is important that occupational therapists respond locally to evidence of increased global interest and rising participation in the occupation of contemporary pilgrimage.

Religious observance is central to the wellbeing of many occupational therapy clients: Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism all have important traditions of pilgrimage that generate spiritual, moral and social capital for participants. Although contemporary pilgrimage is not limited to religious observance, acknowledging that pilgrimage is an important occupation is vital for all culturally sensitive occupational therapists practising in an increasingly multicultural and diverse country, such as the United Kingdom (UK). …

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