Far from One’s Earthly Home

(this is a guest blog posting on postmodernism and pilgrimage, by Sara Terreault, my friend and pilgrimage studies colleague. Her thoughts were inspired by the questions and comments posed by another of our friends and colleagues, E. Moore Quinn. Their back-and-forth conversation was too good, and too detailed, to leave in the comments section!  MA)

Hi Eileen,

Fancy meeting you here: do you come here often? 🙂

Great questions.  I should be grading papers but cannot resist jumping in.  Here goes, a few note-form thoughts in response to your thoughts:

1) “postmodernism (cultural orientation)/postmodernity (historical time period)”: well, literally “after modernism/modernity”.  So applies to cultures that have been shaped by modernism (or in short, the so-called “Enlightenment Project”), but have grown suspicious of modernist assumptions and values, so

1a) Enlightenment Project, a meta-culture (birthing the so-called universalist  “metanarrative”) consisting of : i) anthropology: human person as primarily (or ideally) interior, individual, rational, and, once freed from the tutelage of superstition (incl “religion”) capable of solving all human issues by exercise of rationality); ii) epistemology: rational, objectivist empiricism, privileges scientific method;  iii) ontology: materialist, immanentist.  Implications: the eclipse of the transcendent, the spiritual/religious, the affective.
1b) Romanticism (late 18/early 19th c.) a reaction/response to the hyper-rationalism of the Enlightenment, but which nonetheless retains the individualist interiority of Enlightenment anthropology … however privileges affectivity, intuition, arts and artists, rather than empiricist rationality and science.  Romanticism has an ambiguous relationship to “religion” and I think we can see there the roots of the contemporary postmodern “spiritual but not religious” (re-opens the door to the re-entry of transcendent reality, but not through traditional “religion”).
1c) Finally: postmodernism: disparate cultural movements that have challenged the assumptions and values of the Enlightenment  and  to some degree Romanticism.  It is paradoxically both hyper-modern and anti-modern.
1d) postmodernity: When is this? This will be endlessly debated, but it makes sense to me to place this post WW2, when all the certainties of modern hopefulness in humans and their “brave new world” lay in ruins after the horrors of two world wars, genocide, totalitarianism, atomic weaponry: our lovely individualist, scientific rationalism has *not* saved us after all. Now what?  Western (modernist) culture fragments into many small cultures (mini narratives) privileging the local, the plural, the diverse, the contingent, the social
2) Shrines, relics, pilgrimage and postmodernity: I’ll suggest that the “shrine” is the in-dwelling place of the divine, “relics” are the meaning-imbued and empowered material memory of the holy one (saint) and the holy experience (in this case, pilgrimage); and “pilgrimage” is physical (or in some cases only spiritual) journey for and to self-transcendence.
2a)  i. The shrine may indeed be spatially located, architecturally realised.  But it is also (at least in Christian tradition) interior, spiritual and personal: “You are the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians).  For postmodern people, the secularity of modernity means that attachment to and experience of traditional religion is often thin or very thin.  Yet the desire for and valuing of the transcendent is nonetheless strong, but is expressed largely privately (religion having been banished from the public square).  So the interior understanding of shrine is “natural” to us postmoderns (we are perhaps just a little bit gnostic in our tendencies …).  We may structure our spirituality on aspects (and in the case of pilgrimage), on locations of traditional religions) but we do this largely individually, partially, and with great focus on interiority. ii. peregrini:  I totally agree that postmodern pilgrimage’s “interior shrine” is in many ways like that of the Celtic peregrini pro Christo whose pilgrim journeys were not toward any wrldly centre, that is toward any spatially/materially located shrine, but rather away from the “centre” of the earthly home, familiarity, comfort etc. Their “destination” is not spatial/material/earthly but rather eschatological, and their only earthly material shrine is their own pilgrim bodies. iii) Relics: the material and sacramental traces of holy people, places, memories.  Not a long way from a strand of hair in a locket, or a pilgrim badge or tattoo, or a burden stone to be left on the road, or a postcard or souvenir …
Your further thoughts?

 

5 thoughts on “Far from One’s Earthly Home

  1. One thought: the “your body” of I Cor 6:19 is plural. That may or may not shed light on medieval pilgrimages, but it theologically re-reframes the shrine as the community which re-presents Christ more so than the individual – even while the individual is an instance of the community.

      • I love the corporate (doubly so) community meaning … certainly the peregrini often travelled in company, and even in eremetical monasticism they never thought of themselves as spiritually separated from the community for whom they prayed. I think our pomo spiritualities (and understandings of pilgrimage with it) tend too much toward private/interior individualism … (another legacy of modernism) … when “too much”, it betrays our humanity in general and our Christianity in particular.

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