RG: How do you envision this book contributing to a course on American religion?
I could also see the book prompting students to think about how American religion happens in “in between” places. What I mean is that the pilgrimage is undertaken alongside, or even apart from, one’s usual church/congregation/worship. But it is not completely personal either. There’s an important institutional framework that makes these trips possible. Pilgrimage – and religious leisure more generally – is a great example that complicates the imagined binary between “traditional” church and “free-floating” seeker. And I should add that leisure is important in and of itself because growing numbers of Americans “do” religion through things like tourism. In either context, I could see assigning the book alongside a classic text tracking changes in US Christianity, like Robert Wuthnow’s work on the growth of small groups.
Last, the book foregrounds how materiality and money operate for American Christians. So it could also fit well in a syllabus that is looking to upend normative assumptions about how Protestants use “words” and Catholics use “things,” for example, or how commerce and tourism are antithetical to “the sacred.” I also try to complicate this question of commerce – the exchange of money for things – by exploring how Americans use a discourse of “commercialism” to mark religious difference.
RG: Your book has terrific thematic chapters. How did you choose them?
RG: I was surprised how little Christian-Jewish relations seemed relevant to this study. It was the Protestant and Catholic distinctions that weighed on pilgrims' minds as they surveyed the Holy Land and thought about what it meant to be Christian. How did actually being in the Holy Land highlight these differences between Protestants and Catholics for the pilgrims?
HK: I decided not to place Christian-Jewish relations at the center of the book. One reason is that most studies of these trips have focused on Christian Zionism’s relationship to Jews. As I point out, the pilgrims themselves are rarely, in fact, neatly classed as “Christian Zionists.” Throughout I do note pilgrims’ conception of who Jews are and what they believe, which is often rather hazy and saturated with key symbolic tropes. That’s even more true of Palestinian Muslims and Christians. At the same time, the Israeli and Palestinian professionals with whom they actually interact are rarely confronted as religious “others,” we might say, because pilgrims don’t see them at worship. In short, the Protestant-Catholic distinction you picked up on comes through most clearly in shared sites where religion becomes a marked category, visible through the architecture of the place or the gestures and words of the Christians praying beside them. Ultimately, I point out that ecumenism is, at least in part, aesthetic. There is much less difference between American Catholics and evangelicals than between Americans and others, like Eastern Orthodox.