Document Type : Critical and theoretical research


University of Central Lancashire, UK


A connection has long existed between tourism and spirituality. More specifically, travel for spiritual purposes has for centuries been a popular manifestation of human mobility. Pilgrimage and other spiritually-motivated travel is widely considered to be one of the earliest forms of tourism and nowadays, religious tourism, in all its forms, has evolved into a major sector of the global tourism market. Over the last three decades, however, an alternative perspective on the tourism-spirituality relationship has emerged. Focusing on the meaning or significance of contemporary tourism, it is argued that tourism is a sacred journey, a secular spiritual experience; in other words, tourism has become a secular alternative to the institution of religion, the contemporary tourist a modern, secular pilgrim. Hence, a conceptual divide exists in the relationship between tourism and spirituality, between spiritual (religious) tourism and tourism as spirituality (religion).  Moreover, that divide is evidenced in much of the extant research into tourism, religion and spirituality.
                As this paper suggests, however, such a conceptual divide over-simplifies the relationship between tourism and spirituality; not only is the distinction between spiritual / religious tourism and tourism as a secular spiritual experience becoming increasing fuzzy – some traditional religious travel experiences, for example, are taking on the aura of commoditised tourism products, with implications for the experience of participants themselves – but also the relationship can be viewed from different disciplinary and theoretical positions. A humanistic perspective, for example, questions the notion of spirituality itself, whilst varying interpretations of religion / spirituality also cast the relationship in different lights. Hence, the purpose of this paper is to explore the complexity of the spiritual dimension of tourism. Reviewing the extant literature, it highlights the dimensions of and limits to research into the relationship between tourism and spirituality and, exploring the phenomenon from a variety of perspectives, challenges contemporary understandings and points to areas demanding further research.


ARC (2011) Pilgrimage Statistics: Annual Figures. Alliance of Religions and Conservation. Available at: (Accessed 20 May 2016)
Allcock, J. (1988) Tourism as a sacred journey. Loisir et Société 11, 33-48.
Brierley, P. (1999) Religious Trends, 1998/99, No.1. London: Christian Research.
Brown, M. (1998) The Spiritual Tourist. London: Bloomsbury.
Bull, A. (2006) Is a trip to the seaside a spiritual journey? Paper presented at the Tourism: The Spiritual Dimension Conference, University of Lincoln, UK (unpublished).
Casey, E. (1993) Getting back into place: Toward a renewed understanding of the place-world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Cohen, E. (1979) A phenomenology of tourist experiences. Sociology 13, 179-201.
Collins-Kreiner, N. & Gatrell, J. (2006) Tourism, heritage and pilgrimage: the case of Haifa‟s Bahá‟1G. Journal of Heritage Tourism 1(1), 32-50.
Cohen, E. (1998) Tourism and religion: a comparative perspective. Pacific Tourism Review, 2(1), 1-10.
Collins-Kreiner, N. & Kliot, N. (2000) Pilgrimage tourism in the Holy Land: the behavioural characteristics of Christian pilgrims. Geojournal 50, 55-67.
Cresswell, T. (2004) Place. An introduction, 2nd Edition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Digance, J. (2006) Religious and secular pilgrimage: Journeys redolent with meaning. In D. Timothy & D. Olsen (eds.), Tourism, Religion and Spiritual Journeys. Abingdon: Routledge, 36-48.
Durkheim, E. (2008) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (trans, C. Cosman). Oxford: OUP.
Dyson, J., Cobb, M. & Forman, D. (1997) The meaning of spirituality: A literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing 26(6), 1183-1188.
Elkins, D., Hedstrom, L., Hughes, L., Leaf, J. & Saunders, C. (1988) Toward a humanistic phenomenological spirituality: Definition, description and measurement. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 28(4), 5-18.
Fisher, J., Francis, L. & Johnson, P. (2000) Assessing spiritual health via four domains of spiritual wellbeing: The SH4DI. Pastoral Psychology 49(2), 133-145.
González, R. & Medina, J. (2003) Cultural tourism and urban management in northwestern Spain: the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Tourism Geographies 5(4), 446-460.
Graburn, N. (1989) Tourism: The sacred journey. In V. Smith (ed.), Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism, 2nd Edition. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 21-36.
Graburn, N. (2001) „Secular ritual; a general theory of tourism‟. In V. Smith and M. Brent (eds.) Hosts and Guests Revisited: Tourism Issues of the 21st Century. New York: Cognizant Communications, 42-50.
Gupta, V. (1999) Sustainable tourism: learning from Indian religious traditions. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management 11(2+3), 91-95.
Haq, F. & Jackson, J. (2006) The recognition of the marketing of spiritual tourism as a significant new area in leisure travel. Paper presented at the Tourism: The Spiritual Dimension Conference, University of Lincoln, UK (unpublished).
Harvey, D. (2003) Cell church: Its situation in British evangelical culture. Journal of Contemporary Religion 18(1), 95-109.
Hay, D. & Socha, P. (2005) Science looks at spirituality – spirituality as a natural phenomenon: Bringing biological and psychological perspectives together. Zygon 40(3) 589–612.
Heelas, P. (1998) Introduction: On differentiation and dedifferentiation. In P. Heelas, D.Martin & P. Morris (eds.) Religion, Modernity and Postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1-18.
Heelas, P. and Woodhead, L. (2005) The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Hobson, T. (2010) Why I won‟t pay for St. Paul‟s. The Guardian. Available at: › Opinion › Religion (Accessed 24 May 2016)
Houtman, D. & Aupers, S. (2007) The spiritual turn and the decline of tradition: The spread of post-Christian spirituality in 14 western countries, 1981-2000. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46(3), 305-20.
Jackowski, A. & Smith, V. (1992) „Polish pilgrim-tourists‟. Annals of Tourism Research 19(1), 92-106.
Jepson, D. & Sharpley, R. (2015) More than sense of place? Exploring the emotional dimension of rural tourism experiences. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 23(8+9), 1157-1178.
Kaelber, L. (2006) Paradigms of travel: from medieval pilgrimage to the postmodern virtual tour. In D. Timothy and D. Olsen (eds.) Tourism, Religion and Spiritual Journeys. Abingdon: Routledge, 49-63.
Kale, S. (2004) Spirituality, religion, and globalization. Journal of Macromarketing 24(2), 92-107.
Laing, J. & Crouch, G. (2011) Frontier tourism: Retracing mythic journeys. Annals of Tourism Research 38(4), 1516-1534.
Lambert, Y. (2004) A turning point in religious evolution in Europe. Journal of Contemporary Religion 19(1):,29-45.
Levin, S. (1979) Understanding religious behaviour. Journal of Religion and Health 18(1), 8-20.
MacCannell, D. (1976) The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Schocken Books.
Manzo, L. (2003) Beyond house and heaven: Toward a revisioning of emotional relationships with places. Journal of Environmental Psychology 23(1), 47–61.
Mason, M. (2000) Spirituality: What on earth is it? Paper presented at the International Conference of Children‟s Spirituality, Roehampton Institute. Available at: uk/wp-content/.../SpiritualitywhatonEarthisit.pdf (Accessed 19 June 2014)
McKelvie, J. (2005) Religious tourism. Travel and Tourism Analyst (4): 1-47.
Miner-Williams, D. (2006) Putting a puzzle together: Making spirituality meaningful for nursing using an evolving theoretical framework. Journal of Clinical Nursing 15(7), 811–821.
Mintel (2012) Religious and Pilgrimage Tourism: Market Report. London: Mintel International.