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Military Pilgrimage: Practices and Discourses (Part 1/2)

Panel Chairs: John Eade, Mario Katić | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m.

Although pilgrimage places have always been connected to nationalism, politics and the military from the Middle Ages (crusaders) to contemporary practices (e. g. Australian pilgrimage to Gallipoli or Western visitors to memorials from the First and Second World War), this connection has not been extensively investigated. Discussions have been largely framed within debates concerning ‘secular pilgrimage’, heritage and the relationship between pilgrimage and tourism. In this panel we want to broaden the theoretical and substantive focus. We have gathered scholars and case studies from around the world to analyse practices and discourses connected to Christian and non-Christian military pilgrimage in local and global contexts at national and trans-national levels. We want to observe military pilgrimage in both synchronic and diachronic perspectives and in relationship to politics and nationalism, as well as to individual pilgrims and/or different (secular and religious) agents connected with the establishment and organisation of different military pilgrimages.

Akira Nishimura

Double-layered Pilgrimage: Commemorating Fallen Soldiers on the Occasion of Visiting Buddhist Holy Sites

Quite a number of the remains of Japanese soldiers have not been repatriated as a result of the devastating suicidal battles in the latter stages of the Pacific War. However, some Buddhist priests had chances to participate in the international Buddhist conference and to visit Buddhist heritages, in India and Southeast Asian countries, and seized the moment to hold commemorative ceremony for the war dead around there. This early stage pilgrimages, in a sense, prepared the military pilgrimage movements in postwar Japan. In this paper, I would like to deal with their pilgrimages with a twofold significance. In other words, I will focus upon the double-layered structure of the pilgrim tours both as the commemoration of the fallen soldiers and as the pilgrimage to the Buddhist sacred sites. Besides, I will mention some other cases in which people regard the military pilgrimage as a religious practice. Through those case studies, I would be able to discuss the religious aspect of the healing the wounds of war.

Michael Peterson

“Maple Leaf Up": Patriotic, Historical, and Spiritual Aspects Of Canadian Armed Forces Participation in the Nijmegen March

While the historic Four Days March or Nijmegen March predates both World Wars and originates in the decidedly secular spirit of physical fitness, for members of the Canadian military, Nijmegen has taken on the hallmarks and character of pilgrimage. Each year members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) combine the march with visits to sites sacred to Canada’s military and national memory. By staging events at the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France and at the Canadian war cemetery at Grosebeek, Holland, CAF marchers connect their present-day military service with touchstones of Canada’s military heritage. Wearing Canadian uniform, they traverse a route that Canadian soldiers covered during the Liberation of Holland in 1944-45, which inspired lasting affection between Dutch and Canadians alike. Thus, while primarily a test of physical endurance, for CAF members the Nijmegen March has a rich overlay of historical memory, national and military pride, and even spiritual significance.

Biljana Sikimić

KFOR soldiers as pilgrims in Kosovo: Black Madonna in Letnica

From the anthropological linguistics perspective this paper tries to trace the transformations of pilgrimage to the Roman Catholic shrine in Letnica (Kosovo), in the Day of Assumption during the last century. Because of the volume of news posted on the Internet, it emerges that by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Letnica had become a place of mass pilgrimage, visited every year by KFOR soldiers and pilgrims from other countries in the region. A comparatively local Marian cult at Letnica assumes a universal dimension with its recent transformation into the cult of the Black Madonna, strongly supported by the current cult of Mother Theresa, whose picture is found today on the wall of the Letnica church to the right of the altar.


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