Religious and Cultural Tourism in Kitara

Spiritual tourism aims to explore the elements of life which lie beyond the self and contribute to body-mind-spirit balance. These may or may not have an affiliation to religion.

Cultural tourism is the subset of tourism  concerned with a traveler’s engagement with a country or region’s culture, specifically the lifestyle of the people in those geographical areas, the history of those people, their art, architecture, religion(s), and other elements that helped shape their way of life.

Religious Tourism

When we speak of sacred spaces, the concept of religious tourism will almost inevitably be referred to. Although some authors consider that religious tourism or travel for a religious purpose has been present in the history of humanity since the earliest times, it is clear that the motivation and characteristics have changed over the millennia. For example, the social and technological developments that facilitated the emergence of mass tourism also facilitated a vast increase in travel in general as well as travel for religious motives.

Religious tourism takes many more forms, and many of the people who visit Israel go there not only to visit the sacred sites, but also for the Jewish atmosphere. Most isits to the great cathedrals of Christianity are surely religious tourism in nature. It is interesting to note that the most visited tourist attraction in Europe is Notre-Dame de Paris, with 13 million visitors a year, and that six other churches – Mont Saint-Michel, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, and the cathedrals of Rheims, Chartres, Vézelay and Sainte-Chapelle – are among the 20 most visited places in France.

Religious tourism and heritage

Where religious people have created a space of interaction with sacred powers, tourist practices can establish a place that is worth visiting. It is undeniable that sacred places are visited by different people and for very different reasons, ranging from the faithful and those who seek to have a transcendental experience to those who are drawn there by factors as diverse as nature or art.

The relations between tourism and religion are becoming increasingly close and the conceptual boundaries are becoming increasingly diffuse. The most visible connection between tourism and religion are the thousands of sacred buildings that are of interest to and are visited by tourists. It should be added, however, that the basis of this interest must increasingly be attributed to their cultural and historical value as heritage elements, rather than to their religious purpose.

The best-known classification of religious tourist attractions was published by Nolan and Nolan (1989), who propose a classification of religious tourism resources on the basis of three types that intersect with one another, these being worship temples, religious tourist attractions and places where religious festivals are held. The difference between worship temples and religious tourist attractions is that the former is the object of worship travel and have little tourist value, while the latter is visited by tourists as well as devotees but are not considered places of worship. Nolan and Nolan include in this latter group the majority of monasteries and cathedrals, although it is evident that there are also worship temples which rank highly as tourist attractions. In fact, in these places, it is not unusual for tourists to outnumber worshipers, as they are often famous for art, architecture and/or other features.

In Kitara today, there are so many religious buildings (churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, etc.), most of which have a long history, a high-value heritage and a rich artistic content. Again, many Banyakitara consider the monumental religious heritage as an essential element of cultural identity that should be preserved for the future.

Although the original function of most sacred places is linked to religion, we could add another function, directly related to tourism, taking into account, moreover, that within the religious heritage, it is important to draw a clear distinction between the movable and the immovable heritage.

In the case of religious heritage, it is clear that the original function (but not always the principal one) is to cater to the religious needs of the believers. The other, secular function can in some cases eclipse the religious function and can sometimes complement it. This second function can be applied to a group of religious elements which includes numerous buildings that are not of a religious character in the traditional sense of the word, and which in many cases belong to religious organizations and are also used by believers. These are buildings that can be included among the tourist services on offer and are used to cater in some way to visitors (regardless of their motivation): monasteries, convents, seminaries, religious schools and so on.

The visitor to the sacred memorial may have two orientations: the maintenance of the cult in its original sense of religious respect; or the cult rendered to physical monuments of the collective memory.

In this context, we introduce the concept of authenticity. The tourists who look for authentic experiences are like secular pilgrims, seeking to endow life with meaning through these experiences that are lived in a different space than usual. An inauthentic attitude toward the place essentially amounts to having no sense of place, which implies not having an awareness of the deep symbolic significance of places and failing to appreciate their identity.

In a religious place, the tourism discourse on authenticity coincides with this same discourse. In fact, ‘Tourists, every bit as much as devotees, have a keen interest in an authentic experience of the place’. When tourism and sacred spaces brought into contact, it is necessary to ensure that these places do not lose their identity and reason for being.

The cathedral as heritage tourism attraction is also sacred space, identified as such by the majority of its visitors even if they do not know the correct means of behavior and are unable to articulate the significance of its seeming immutability as a component of their experience. The tourist, however, sees it as a space to be preserved rather than used, to be gazed upon but not changed.

The insertion of tourism as an activity in these spaces can generate transformations in their territorial and environmental reality, as well as leaving a mark on the socio-cultural characteristics that make them what they are.

The practice of tourism involves the consumption of places and their adaptation to accommodate tourism by systems of intermediation, interpretation, representation and transformation. Tourist sites need to be symbolically recognizable and to maintain a dialectic between what is safe and comfortable, on the one hand, and what is unknown and surprising, on the other. And this being so, they require appropriate forms and content.

The religious comprehension of a place creates a particular set of spaces, while tourist interpretations produce a different type of space. Certainly, this simultaneity of places offers abundant opportunities for superimposition and convergence: the sacred for the devotees, the aesthetic and commoditized for the tourists.

Tourism development also creates new tensions, between the use of sites as tourist destinations and the maintenance of “sacralized” notions of space. There is a serious risk that some monasteries may find themselves “invaded” by increasing numbers of tourists. Such a place receives a large number of tour groups every year, and the sale of tickets to tourists is currently a key income source for the monastery, as well as a source of revenue for the country government.

Although devotees and tourists may occupy the same place at the same time, their practices are different and their respective interpretations of the site create different realities. In this way, the sacred spaces maintain what is called simultaneity of space. An individual’s experience may be transversal, spanning both religion and tourism, when tourists take part in religious activities or when the religious observances are what attract them to the sacred site.

In relation to tourism, we view that:

  1. Tourism, although often dismissed as frivolous and superficial, is felt by millions of people to be a measure of their quality of life, and is an important and necessary compensation to achieve the balance that is lacking in their daily routine.
  2. The behavior of tourists and their aspirations are direct or indirect indicators of what is significant and meaningful in people’s lives, their perceptions, their class or group identity and their social aspirations.
  3. The styles of tourism may be the main indicators of fundamental changes that lie latent in the more restrictive institutions of the everyday world, because tourism is the short portion of a person’s life in which they feel free to indulge their fantasies, to improve physically and culturally, and to expand their horizons.

The forms of tourism linked to sacred spaces and to religion represent, from the tourist’s point of view, a search for the authentic and an experience of the sacred. This is, then, tourism with spiritual connotations, which would alleviate the apparent ephemerality and lack of meaning of everyday life.

It follows that when we talk about sacred spaces and tourism we must allow for different typologies of tourism; rather than confine ourselves to religious tourism, we must extend the field of study to other types, such as cultural or spiritual tourism.

Man, as a social and cultural being, modifies his natural environment, constructing concrete and tangible material goods (architecture, cities, and objects). These expressions acquire complete meaning only when, above and beyond the object itself, their underlying value is revealed. At the same time, man also constructs another type of manifestation to which he gives a particular significance, and which are expressed in a preferentially intangible and immaterial way. These goods are the markers of an identity rooted in the past, actualized in the present and reinterpreted by successive generations, which have to do with everyday knowledge, familiar practices and social networks.

We define religious tourism as a type of tourism which is primarily motivated by religion (whether in combination with other motivations or not); which has a religious place as a destination, and which may or may not be linked to participation in ceremonies and religious activities.

The attitude of religious tourist in a sacred space is one of veneration and respect, and both seek to have an experience that will put them in contact with the divinity and with a transcendental beyond.

Spiritual tourism refers to the type of recreational travel whose objective is to please the spirit, and is, therefore, emotionally satisfying. It may be religiously oriented or not, since in addition to the visiting of sacred spaces and participation in retreats or pilgrimage routes it can also be carried out in cultural and natural settings and include activities of relaxation and well-being for the body.

There are three visions of spirituality, namely as the innermost center of the person, as an opening to the infinite and encounter with mystery, and as an encounter with the other (the ethical dimension). Spiritual tourism is centered on valuing aspects strongly related to the experiences that one hopes to encounter at the sacred site.

Cultural tourism is the type of recreational travel that takes people to specific cultural attractions, such as artistic heritage sites and cultural events, away from their usual place of residence, with the aim of acquiring new information and experiences to satisfy their cultural needs.

Art, in different ways in different individuals, acts as a powerful mental stimulant with intense effects. Down through the centuries a special spiritual and cultural dimension has been attributed to art, which would in some way distinguish it from the more prosaic paths of happiness, mainly related to the sensory system. The “fine arts” would arouse positive emotional reactions, to so describe the pleasing and even euphoric sensations to which art can give rise, superior to merely sensory responses.

Here once again, then, art, religion and tourism are mixed, the common feature being that they can provide highly intense experiences, whether it be through contemplation, creation or participation in worship or cultic observances.

The identification of these parameters or regularities between different types of visitor should be a basis for better management of sacred spaces and help to avoid such conflicts as may arise between different expectations.

We find that tourists who visit European cathedrals and other historic churches – even if part of the so-called heritage industry – have a distinctive approach to visiting religious buildings. First, they view them as public spaces that should be free to access. Second, they tend to view visiting such spaces as different from visits to museums or heritage centers. There is evidence of an unclear search for what might be called some form of “spiritual experience.

The religious heritage, the relationship between sacred space and sacred time

Sacred spaces and religious sites can be viewed from different perspectives. This takes into account the relationship between the tangible and the intangible heritage, that is, between sacred space and sacred time (rituals being regarded as part of the intangible heritage).

In general, when reference is made to sacred spaces or to sacred time, reference is made to heritage elements. The concept of cultural heritage can be very broad; it is a complex and difficult to define and has changed over time. The cultural heritage of a people is that which includes:

  • The works of its artists, architects, musicians, writers and scientists and also the work of anonymous artists, expressions of the people’s spirituality, and the body of values ​​which give meaning to life. It includes both tangible and intangible works through which the creativity of that people finds expression: languages, rites, beliefs, historic places and monuments, literature, works of art, archives and libraries.
  • Subsequently, the concept of the intangible heritage, is understood as the various forms of traditional and popular or folk culture, including customs, rites and festivals.

The intangible cultural heritage is:

  • Traditional, contemporary and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part.
  • Inclusive: we may share expressions of intangible cultural heritage that are similar to those practiced by others. Whether they are from the neighboring village, from a city on the opposite side of the world, or have been adapted by peoples who have migrated and settled in a different region, they all are intangible cultural heritage: they have been passed from one generation to another, have evolved in response to their environments and they contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity, providing a link from our past, through the present, and into our future.
  • Representative: intangible cultural heritage is not merely valued as a cultural good, on a comparative basis, for its exclusivity or its exceptional value. It thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities.
  • Community-based: intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is recognized as such by the communities, groups or individuals that create, maintain and transmit it without their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their heritage.

Sacred spaces are constituted of movable and immovable elements, but at the same time they have a function in worship that is related to rites and festivals, including elements of the tangible heritage and intangible heritage (buildings and monuments, artistic objects, and also texts, legends, rites and so on).

The cultural heritage has a clear significance in terms of cultural identity, and the religious heritage, in its various manifestations (tangible and intangible), is a good example of this. In fact, to speak of sacred sites or religious sites is to refer to places rather than spaces. It should be noted that the concept of place is endowed with a specific meaning that clearly differentiates it from that of space. The place is ‘a certain portion of space’ as a meaningful location, as a way of looking, of knowing and of understanding the world.

The place not only has a location (it must be located in a physical space) and a visible material form; it must also have some relationship with human beings and the human capacity to produce and absorb meaning. There is the ‘sense of place’ as the emotional and subjective link that people have with a place. We use the term ‘spirit of the place’ to refer to the atmosphere that surrounds the sacred space, an atmosphere that can be affected by the inappropriate behavior of tourists and/or visitors. The essence of the place is its definition as the center of human existence. Sacred spaces or religious heritage sites have a strong symbology and acquire a strong emotional and experiential component.

There are two fundamental characteristics of the place: that it is a social construct and that it manifests a temporal dimension. Every religion constructs space and time through its specific ontological commitments, and it follows from this that, in order to understand the nature of religious landscapes, representations and practices, it is necessary to contextualize these within the religious temporal and spatial framework.

Sacred spaces must be read in light of the idea of a site that is located in space and time and has a meaning for a group. This concept generates a strong sense of identity and belonging.

At the same time, a clear distinction is established between sacred spaces and profane spaces. The sacred appears as a stable or ephemeral property of certain things (cultic objects), certain real human beings (priests), imagined beings (gods, spirits), certain animals (sacred cows), certain spaces (temples, holy places) and certain periods or times of the year (Holy season, Ramadan etc). A difference is also established between space and time, in that we can speak of sacred space and profane space and of sacred time and profane time. These concepts are closely related.

It follows, therefore, that the tangible religious heritage is formed by those movable and immovable elements that make up the material heritage of the center. This tangible heritage represents in some degree the sacred space and reproduces, among other things, all the symbolisms of the sacred. This heritage also includes those objects of the movable heritage, such as paintings, altarpieces, ornamentation and elements of the liturgy, which can be classed as artworks…. Tangible religious heritage can at the same time represent an interest in art, architecture or history above and beyond purely religious interest; it can also be linked to motivations which are largely but not exclusively secular (such as cultural tourism, for example).

In contradistinction to the above, the intangible religious heritage is made up of the rites, cults and events that take place in these sacred spaces. We could say that this heritage is a clear manifestation of sacred time, of the devotion of the people toward a certain element and of the rites of integration practiced in these places, and we could, therefore, associate these elements with a strictly religious motivation.

In accordance with what has been seen so far, the values of the religious heritage can be both monumental and religious: in other words, these are spaces that enhance the value of cultural and historical elements (architecture, for example) and religious elements (their value of use and of worship as sacred spaces). Different relationships can be established between the tangible and intangible heritage, or between the monumental value and the value of worship of sacred spaces. It can be observed that in broad outline there are four possible relationships between sacred time and sacred space. Emblematic sacred places are those that have a high monumental value and are also used as places of worship. In addition, there are also elements where the intangible heritage clearly possesses greater values than the tangible, and these have been called sacred spaces of worship, in which the religious function is primary. In contrast, in the monumental sacred spaces, the tangible heritage values (monumental and artistic) outweigh all other values. The fourth typology encompasses those elements in which values of worship as well as monumental values are of little or no importance in comparison with other heritage spaces.

Relation of tangible heritage and intangible heritage in sacred spaces

Religion and culture: Revisiting a close relative

Religion and culture always exist in a close relation. Together with aesthetics and ethics, religion constitutes culture. As ethnicity becomes part of the related concepts, the relation with religion needs explanation. When studying religion, a study of culture is necessary. This statement is argued from three positions: (1) cultural migrations occurring worldwide, (2) religion as cultural identity marker causing the borders between culture and religion to blur and (3) the location of religion within culture causing religion to act as custodian of culture. This results in a situation where any signs of animosity towards culture are interpreted as opposition towards religion.

When discussing terms and processes in the study of religions, culture and religion constantly appear as important concepts; the study of religions requires studying ethnicity and culture. To formulate the issue at hand, a more appropriate question might be helpful: What are the implications of the relatedness of religion, ethnicity and culture for the process of reconciliation in a post-colonial Africa? If this is our focus, we must recognize the relevance and meaning of related concepts. Culture, religion, anthropology, ethnography and reconciliation become central issues related to the conversation.

There are three main points here: Cultural migrations; religion as cultural identity marker; and the location of religion within culture. It is, however, important to first of all understand the ways in which religion, ethnicity and culture relate.

What exactly is the problem?

If religion is a cultural tradition, is it possible to separate religion and culture? Can you belong to the African culture and still practice Christian religion? To this question must be added, can you be a white Christian in Africa without being labeled a colonist and oppressor? Can you be African without being labeled as primitive and prone to animism and magic? Has religion become a cultural identity marker in an African context, demarcating the borders between people? Belonging to a particular religion implies belonging to a particular culture. From this position follows a crude generalization that to belong to a particular culture implies belonging to a particular religion. It is clear that religion and culture cannot be separated. However, we maintain that Christianity, for one, must not be viewed as a culture. The essence of Christianity is religious. Many adherents of different religions will agree to this when applied to their own religious convictions. However, it cannot be denied that religion is a cultural expression. In this regard, culture and religion must be viewed as relatives. This has implications on how to study religion. If religion is seen as a segment of culture, studying religion becomes an anthropological and ethnographic exercise.

The relation between culture and religion is an old and still on-going debate. Ever since Aristotle used the term ethnos to identify the groups of people living outside of the Greek polis, indicating them as primitive, people belonging to different cultures and religions could be labeled as ‘outsiders, uncultured and irreligious’. During the Enlightenment period, Europeans took over this notion of Aristotle to label all non-Europeans as ‘uncivilized’.

In a post-colonial Africa, a reconfiguration of social structures is taking place. The hierarchical structure of Enlightenment arrangements of cultures, races and religions needs to be reconsidered. This reconfiguration includes the consideration of how cultures, races and people with different religious affiliations relate to one another. This process may be labeled reconciliation, but in fact refers to a process of seeking identity.

The definition of what religion is, however, still remains outstanding. The problem with defining religion is that there are too many meanings and the meanings are too indeterminate to be of value.

When religion is studied as being part of the Cultural Sciences, requiring an anthropological approach, where culture refers to the totality of human existence in the world, it can easily happen that the concept of religion is absorbed in the concept of culture. The difficulty of indicating boundaries between religion and culture because of the fact that religion and anthropology share in many social and cultural theories;

The opposite relation between culture and religion is also possible: religion in opposition to culture (religion as anti-culture). Even when religion is part of culture, it is possible to differentiate religion from a worldview governing a cultural community. The conclusion that comes in is that whatever the relation between culture and religion is, either absorbed or in opposition, it still remains identifiable what constitutes religion. There are many elements considered part of religion which are connected to cultural elements (i.e. politics, science, art and literature).

Culture denotes a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.

Anthropology as the attempt at studying culture and religion requires a definition of what constitutes religion. Religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing the conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivation seem uniquely realistic.

As to the interrelatedness of culture and religion:

The importance of religion lies in its capacity to serve for the individual or for a group, as a source of general, yet distinctive, conceptions of the world, the self and the relations between them; Religion, thus, possesses an orientating function, providing society with criteria to find its place (identity) within the world.

Culture is understood as an ordered symbolic system that is, a symbolically mediated pattern of values or standards of appropriateness that permits the construction of a set of action-guiding, normative, conventional rules through which significant cultural objects are generated and used.

Religion has a function within society to provide society with guidelines as to find identity. The emphasis in studying religion is to focus on the actions that what is done. Human behavior and activity (action) including religion as human activity must be interpreted to gain meaning from such activity. It is important to note that behavior with meaning constitutes culture. Meaning is contextually assigned, and therefore, similar behavior among different communities only differs in terms of the meaning assigned to such behavior. Different ethnic groups will have different criteria by which meaning is determined.

There are three stages of development in the understanding of culture:

  • Stage 1: Culture is a pre-given constant. Culture is seen as an all-encompassing reality, as a way of life of a people. Cultural patterns are pre-given. People belonging to a culture are only bearers of that culture. Culture is characterized by custom and habitual behavior. This type of culture is typical of traditional cultures of small and non-complex societies.
  • Stage 2: Culture is a dominating power and a source of conflict and innovation. During the 1960s, culture became a source of conflict and a space for innovative initiatives. Cultural patterns are challenged as they become subversive. Alternative cultures are perceived as being innovative. People belonging to this type of culture are producers of culture as well as sub-cultures.
  • Stage 3: Culture is a domain of potentiality and choice. The way in which culture is interpreted today is that culture is perceived as providing room for freedom of choice and combinations of elements. Cultural patterns are marketable and transferable, and their power is negotiable. People belonging to this type of culture are mainly seen as consumers of culture although also as producers. They produce something new by way of combination and present it as commodity ready for consumption. Exponents of this type of culture are multi-cultural societies or mixed cultures or postmodern cultures subject to globalization.

From this analysis, the constant production and consumption of culture are emphasized. When religion forms a segment of culture under the third stage, religion becomes a commodity prepared for utility and consumption. A problem, however, arises when people with a Stage 1 or 2 understanding of culture encounter a community where a Stage 3 understanding of culture is prevalent. If culture is perceived as a given, there can be no negotiation as to integration or accommodation. The different stages of cultural development must be taken into account when studying inter-cultural contact. 

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