Often associated with religious motives, pilgrimage is the long, arduous journey meant to enlighten one about his or herself and faith. Yet, pilgrimage extends beyond its religious roots and is used by many as a break from the norm or to overcome inner struggles. A mindless vacation to a beach is by no means a pilgrimage, but hiking amongst the beauty of nature, taking in the rise and set of the sun, with the intention to reach peace of mind is no different than a pilgrimage through the Holy land. 

Many people do not feel the need to embark on such a journey because they lack faith and/or religious devotions, however pilgrimage can be used as a tool to free the mind and release tensions and stress in daily life. In a post from The Guardian, Jessica Reed describes her motives for pilgrimage, despite being an atheist, stating “the idea of travelling inwards while simultaneously conquering vast outside spaces intrigues me,” proving that pilgrimage is not merely for religious enlightenment, but is sparked by interest and desire to feel nature’s destinations wash away stresses and worries (Reed).

In Alain de Botton’s article, he argues “if inner change is difficult, then we may need a commensurately difficult outer journey to inspire and goad us,” emphasizing that a pilgrimage can motivate one beyond the expansion of faith, but can also influence the changes we make to our lifestyle and the perspectives we take away from such journey (de Botton). Furthering more than just one’s faith, pilgrimage allows for re-evaluation of one’s life, stimulating personal realizations that slouching at home does not provide.

 Pilgrimage is a way to expand our knowledge about ourselves and can help us overcome obstacles in day to day life, not just in our faith. A description of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, an embarking atheist “only thought about where to put [his] foot next,” taking a moment to realize “that this was the mental break [he] was looking for” (Jeffrey). Non-religious pilgrimage clears our minds of the troubles going on in our life, and causes one to pause and reflect on the health of their mind and their body. A journey through a sacred land or a wonder of the world brings us to terms with our mind and body, allowing us to check our mental and physical well-being without influence from outside stressors. 

Pilgrimage extends far beyond learning more about God or furthering one’s faith, but can bring about peace of mind and physical awareness that the stresses of day to day life suppress. Immersing oneself in nature clears the mind and causes one to focus on him or herself for once rather than the tasks sitting at a desk or unfinished chores. Pilgrimage with non-religious motives ease tension and can spark much needed change in one’s life, whether that be easing the pain of loss or seeing life from a new perspective.

Works Cited

de Botton, Alain. “Spiritual Travel for Atheists: Do Pilgrimages Have a Place in Modern Society?” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 3 Feb. 2012, www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/spiritual-travel-atheists-do-pilgrimages-have-place-modern-society-6350955.html. 

Jeffrey, James. “The Making of a Modern Pilgrim.” The Humanist, The American Humanist Association, 20 Dec. 2017, thehumanist.com/magazine/january-february-2018/features/making-modern-pilgrim. 

Reed, Jessica. “Should Only Those Following God Embark on a Pilgrimage?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Sept. 2012, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/sep/05/god-pilgrimage-camino-santiago-atheist-dilemma.

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November 6, 2020 2:50 am

Dear Izzy,

I liked how you describe what the place is and how it was built into a town. It was a town for people that liked pilgrimage.

November 2, 2020 7:59 pm


Your post greatly intrigued me since it offers an alternative answer to the question “what is a pilgrimage.” Your reflection clearly examines how pilgrimages are not strictly just religious. Besides a spiritual awakening, these journeys can also unleash a deeper understanding of self in relation to society.

One thing you said that stands out to me is “pilgrimage allows for re-evaluation of one’s life, stimulating personal realizations that slouching at home does not provide.” I think that this is an interesting observation because sometimes, it is very easy to become complacent and lackluster while at home. A change of pace can be greatly beneficial as it opens people to new ideas and perspectives. Through this thinking, pilgrimages are an invaluable resource for relaxation and meditation.

Thanks for your well-thought out post. I hope to read more of you work in the future!

November 2, 2020 3:08 pm


I was very interested in your post because it takes a perspective that one may not usually think of in regards to pilgrimages. People usually think of pilgrimages as religious journeys, but as you discussed, they place a heavy emphasis on self-reflection and realization. I like how you connected pilgrimages to change. It’s interesting that you talk about the benefits of pilgrimages as both mental and physical. Many people just think about the mental/internal benefits, including myself. The testimonies you include from people who are not religious were helpful in terms of proving your point that all people, no matter their religion, can benefit from embarking on pilgrimages.

Thank you for your post, and I look forward to reading more from you in the future!

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