Factors influencing the construction of individuals' subjective meaning when visiting pilgrimage shrines
: a study of pilgrims and tourists at Lourdes in south west France

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis addresses the research question ‘what factors influence the construction of individuals’ subjective meaning when visiting pilgrimage shrines?’ The context of the study centres on the pilgrimage shrine at Lourdes in south west France.

    The review of the literature is set out in three sections. Part One critiques the traditional definitions, approaches, theories and concepts in the study of pilgrimage and religious tourism. The seminal literature in the study of pilgrimage and religious tourism places emphasis upon the objectivity (external and generalised) of the pilgrimage experience. Part Two considers the intermediate, or bridging, literature in the study of pilgrimage and religious tourism. The intermediate literature is dominated by the work of Smith (1992), Stoddard (1996), Santos (2003) and the opposing Turnerian theoretical position of Marnham (1980), Sallnow (1981), Eade and Sallnow (1991), Eade (1991), Eade (1992) (competing discourses) and Reader and Walter (1993) (pilgrimage and popular culture). Part Three presents the contemporary theoretical perspective of pilgrimage and religious tourism which advocates a shift from objective to subjective theory. The main proponents of this view are Dora (2012), Andriotis (2011) and Collins-Kreiner (2010).
    The epistemological position of this study is grounded in the philosophy of interpretivism. The methodological position of this study is qualitative adopting an inductive view. The data collection consisted of convenience sample pilot interviews followed by conversational interviews as part of a larger micro-ethnographic study. The analysis of the data was conducted using the thematic analysis technique.
    The findings in this study are organised around four emergent themes;
    1. The authority of the church and pilgrimage conflict
    2. The contestation of dual space
    3. The pull factors - experiencing Marian mysticism, cures and miracles - the meaning of pilgrimage
    4. The testimonies of pilgrims – a confession of truth

    This study presents an alternative theoretical paradigm that has emerged from the traditional (objective), intermediate (bridging) and contemporary (subjective) literature. The response to the research question claims that ‘the construction process at Lourdes is multi-dimensional, multi-layered and influenced by self-constructed narratives which underpin multiple factors associated with belief, duty, observance, ritual, control, conflict, authority and most importantly, return’. This claim presents a new theoretical framework which embraces the multi-dimensional and multi-layered influences upon the construction process; both literal and metaphorical. The literature in the study of pilgrim-touristic construction supports a shift from the objective to the subjective - this study proposes a hybridisation of existing theory that supports three dominant paradigms/frameworks;
    1. Meaning is not one-dimensional
    2. Objectivity and subjectivity are not polarised concepts
    3. The paradigmatic shift from objectivity to subjectivity is not a ‘whole concept’
    A new definition of pilgrimage devised from this study is;
    ‘The process of pilgrimage (pre-visit, visit, post-visit) is a multi-dimensional activity constructed with symbiotic actions (objective and subjective) and present in the form of complex narratives that are experienced, interpreted and applied to form/construct an individual subjective meaning that has internal and external influence’.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAnne Marie Doherty (Supervisor) & Brychan Thomas (Supervisor)


    • Pilgrims and pilgrimages
    • shrines
    • Christian shrines

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