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Call for papers: Narrating the pilgrimage to Mecca: experiences, emotions, and meanings

03 april 2019

Narrating the pilgrimage to Mecca: experiences, emotions, and meanings

Conveners: Professor Marjo Buitelaar (University of Groningen) and Dr Richard van Leeuwen (University of Amsterdam).
Date: 12 & 13 December 2019.
Venue: University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Key note speakers:

1. Professor Seán McLoughlin (University of Leeds)
2. To be announced

For many Muslims Mecca is the most sacred city on earth and a powerful presence in everyday life. Given the centrality of Mecca and the hajj in the Islamic tradition and its increasing popularity as a religious travel-destination since the nineteenth century, it seems surprising that Meccan pilgrimage – including both hajj and umra - has virtually escaped the attention of scholars on modern Muslim life. While a number of recent studies focus on the history of the hajj, particularly in colonial times, pilgrims’ personal experiences of the pilgrimage to Mecca have not yet received much attention. This conference endeavors to remedy this neglect by exploring how pilgrims from different times and places in the world have narrated their experiences of the hajj and umra.

The main focus of this conference is on the pilgrims’ lived engagement with the rituals of the hajj, Meccan space and their fellow pilgrims. It studies how pilgrims have made sense of Meccan pilgrimage by asking how they select from and creatively combine cultural discourses and emotional repertoires in their stories about expectations, experiences and recollections of Muslim pilgrimage ? How do these stories relate to the wider sets of social relations, cultural contexts and power structures they are embedded in ?  

Additionally, it explores the ways this engagement is informed by (1) the discursive traditions in which Muslims have performed the pilgrimage to Mecca and articulated their experience of it; and (2) how these interpretations and experiences been shaped by the various cultural discourses which co-constitute their habitus and moral and aesthetic sensibilities. In particular, the conference explores the ways in which the experience the pilgrimage to Mecca, most specifically but not exclusively the hajj, has been articulated in relation to the self and society.

We approach the hajj as a dynamic ritual, the experience of which is diverse and changing over time amongst individuals and groups in different places. The conference aims to map the dynamic development of the pilgrimage to Mecca until today by producing insights in the ways the ongoing technological, cultural, political and economic transformations in pilgrims’ lives have affected their experiences. We are especially interested in the impact of modernity on the pilgrimage experiences of individual Muslims in the period from 1850 until the present day, but do not exclude the exploration of earlier sources and texts.

In order to convey the diversity of hajj and umra experiences and produce insights into their historical developments, we invite paper proposals for one of three panels that focus on different sources and approaches:

1. Hajj experiences in historical perspective: This part will focus on written accounts by pilgrims in the past until the present day, as part of a tradition of pilgrimage narratives, but also on other texts which shape the experience of pilgrims as part of a discursive tradition. Questions discussed in this part include:

  • To what extent can hajj accounts be considered part of a discursive tradition?
  • What kinds of other texts contributed to this discursive tradition?
  • How do the different genres within the discursive tradition relate to each other to form sets of generic conventions?
  • In what ways are these genres characterized by the experience of travel?
  • To what extent and in what ways do the travel accounts reflect and represent individual and collective experiences, as opposed to emulating generic conventions?
  • In what ways is religiosity expressed and constructed in travel narratives and related texts?

2. The meaning of the hajj and umra in the everyday life of contemporary Muslims: Focusing mainly on oral accounts and modern sources such as Internet, visual media and objects, this part addresses the interplay between the emotional plots that are invoked in the hajj and umra rituals and pilgrims’ active engagement with these plots as they seek out and respond to specific places, objects and symbols and attach meaning to them in ways that gives purchase over their own lives and personal issues. Questions discussed in this part include:

  • How are aspirations and motivations to embark upon pilgrimage or to ‘postpone’ the sacred journey related to other needs and pursuits?
  • How do pilgrims co-produce and experience the ‘sensational’ power of the pilgrimage?
  • What pilgrimage related practices do pilgrims perform and how do sensory experiences and emotions thus invoked reflect (1) pilgrims’ experiences and issues in everyday life and (2) their conceptions of religiosity, social identifications and self-identity?
  • How do narrators categorize their own pilgrimage experiences and the practices of others in terms of ‘sacred/mundane’ and ‘Islamic/un-Islamic’, and how do such qualifications relate to the multiple social and personal positions from which they tell their stories?
  • In what ways does pilgrimage to Mecca relate to other forms of travel, such as migration, holidays, local/regional pilgrimage?
  • How does the pilgrimage relate to other social dimensions of religious life?

3. The experience of the hajj and the construction of religiosity: Overlapping with the previous two parts, in the third part we focus specifically on the religious dimensions of the hajj experience by reflecting on how the hajj influences the construction and expression of religiosity in the past and in the present. Questions discussed in this section include:

  • In what ways does the prospect of pilgrimage structure religious lives of Muslims as part of their social lives?
  • In what ways are the experiences of the hajj related to debates within Islam?
  • To what extent is the hajj related to normative aspects of Islam?
  • To what extent is the religious meaning of the hajj interpreted through sensory, physical and material aspects of the rituals?
  • In what ways does the hajj reflect or contribute to transformations of religiosity and its social embedding?
  • In what ways is the hajj constructed as a spiritual phenomenon, in the sense of both personal experience and Sufi doctrines?

These themes and questions will be discussed from the perspective of ‘lived religion’, but also of Islam as part of a discursive tradition consisting of various genres and generic conventions, with the aim to highlight the connections between individual and collective visions of the hajj and the ways in which they contribute to the construction of religiosity.

Practical information

  • Using the subject Hajj conference Amsterdam, please send your:
    1. proposals for presentations (max. 300 words)
    2. brief c.v. / affiliation (max. 100 words)

to Professor Marjo Buitelaar ( and Dr Richard van Leeuwen ( before June 1st. A selection will be made and communicated with applicants before July 1st.

  • Revisions of a selection of the papers presented at the conference will be included in a volume of essays related to the project ‘Modern articulations of the Hajj’, which will appear in 2021.

  • Accommodation costs for three nights will be covered by the conference organizers for participants from outside the Netherlands. Participants will be expected to arrange their itineraries and pay their travel costs themselves.
Laatst gewijzigd:12 juni 2023 20:19

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