Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


To Sink Or to Swim: Pilgrimage to Lourdes As An Ethnographer's Trial By Water


Anthropology Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Social and Behavioral Sciences


In 1997, on the very day I arrived to start my doctoral research in Rocamadour, France, I was given the opportunity to go on the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes with 400 or so members of the local diocese. The catch was that the pilgrimage was to take place in one week. Despite the fact that I was unaccustomed to my field site, my informants, and the religion I had chosen to study, I said yes. The five days of this pilgrimage, undertaken one week after beginning my research, were challenging to me, both as an agnostic, personally unfamiliar at that time with Roman Catholic ritual, belief and experience, and as a very green ethnographer conducting fieldwork for the first time. Anthropologists such as Paul Clough and Susan Friend Harding have argued, respectively, that fieldwork among religious communities benefits when an ethnographer has his own religious beliefs and experiences to draw upon, or when the ethnographer attempts to put herself into the mindset of the people being studied, taking on their world views. This paper, conversely, will consider the impact of an ethnographer's very limited religious background and experience on fieldwork being conducted in an especially religious group during an especially religious event, focusing on the influence my ignorance had on my interactions with and interpretations of informants and how this "immersion" into pilgrimage culture at Lourdes shaped my future approaches as an anthropologist.

Conference Name

American Anthropological Association Annual Conference

Conference Location

Chicago, Illinois

This document is currently not available here.