It is appropriate to review the concept of religious tourism since we aspire to respond to a wide spectrum of experiences of approaching the sense of transcendence that goes beyond the exclusive sphere of the traditional religions from which this idea initially emerged. New spiritualities are emerging that constitute broad groups that were not logically contemplated in the traditional conception of religious tourism.
It should also be asked, can the laws of the market organise the spiritual demand of contemporary man?
Religious tourism is a discipline that is growing in importance day by day. But religious tourism cannot be done without a soul.
Undoubtedly we must recognise that religions have always been a factor that has mobilised people from one place to another, basically inspiring pilgrims and the faithful to seek to approach places of sanctification or prayer, bringing about a re-encounter with the source of their transcendence.
Tourism is therefore born out of the need of the faithful to go to the sources of their own belief.
Tourism then accompanies this human journey by providing the necessary conditions so that the faithful or pilgrims can satisfy their needs, not only spiritual but also in terms of wellbeing.
Thus, the concept of religious tourism is coined, which, in my opinion, should be reviewed from two perspectives:
1 - Religious tourism or cultural tourism?
2 - Can the laws of the market organise man's spiritual demand?
I will try to outline some ideas on each topic, recognising in advance that both approaches need to be further explored in new debates.
RELIGIOUS TOURISM OR SPIRITUAL TOURISM
It seems to me that religiosity and spirituality should be conceptually reviewed, understanding that they do not mean the same thing. I believe that religiosity is associated with ecclesiastical, religious institutions, with an air of organisation and coercive regulations. Religiosity is a form of expression of spirituality within the format of an institution.
Others see spirituality as unstructured, good and liberating, individual and not subject to any normative, let alone punitive, institutional regulation.
The term spirituality from an etymological point of view is considered from the combination of Latin words/vocabularies that make up its origin: soul, quality, which refers to the nature or condition concerning the spirit, i.e. the link between an individual and a certain idea or experience of the transcendent. This is how the dictionaries put it.
Existential questions about who I am, where I come from and what happens after death and the experience of what is usually called transcendence have accompanied the development of man in his individual and communal expressions for as long as history has been recorded.
"Spirituality can suggest practices as well as thoughts, emotions and beliefs. It can be interpreted both individually and collectively and affect in a concrete way the life experience of a person or a group". Says Leónides del Carmen Fuentes in her UCA thesis on the topic Spirituality, religiosity and empathy.
These perspectives lead to a revision of the concept of religious tourism since we aspire to respond to a wide spectrum of experiences of approaching the sense of transcendence that goes beyond the exclusive sphere of traditional religions from which this idea initially emerged.
The article "Emotion and new spiritualities", by Nicolás Viotti , from CONICET, analyses groups linked to new age spirituality and revivalist and/or renewed Catholicism, in the broader context of the so-called "new spiritualities".
These new spiritualities constitute broad collectives that were not logically contemplated in the traditional conception of religious tourism. They refer to groups that mobilise in search of semi-collective personal motivations outside any religious catalogue. Examples are religious naturalism, scientific pantheism, religious humanism and some liberal Unitarians, Quakers, Rastafarians. In the same vein, some associate yoga, tantra, various esotericisms and multiple forms of approaching answers to the vital questions of man who wants to give his life a sense of transcendence.
Deepening the analysis
The idea of spirituality in people's minds is associated with the search for meaning, purpose and direction in life. Many embark on spiritual paths for multiple reasons. Broadly speaking, there are a few main reasons for this, according to the Spiritual Science Research Foundation.
Curiosity about the spiritual dimension: This includes seeking answers to life's deepest questions, such as - what is the purpose of life, where did I come from and where do we go after death?
When facing a problem in life: Insurmountable problems in life are often a catalyst for people to seek an answer to their problems beyond the scope of modern science. This includes approaching an astrologer, a psychic or a holy man.
Interest in spiritual healing: The ability to heal by channelling subtle energies is an art that has been pursued for millennia.
Interest in personality enhancement: Wanting to be a better person can lead to Spirituality and a more spiritual way of life.
Wanting to grow Spiritually: Some of us have an innate need to grow spiritually and do not need a catalyst or religious organisation to push us towards Spirituality.
So far so good.
But this market logic often overlooks the fact that the central objective of the activity is basically to generate the conditions for each person to find the answers to an inner need associated with their sense of transcendence.
We should reconnect the spiritual tourist with the most important thing in his or her life: the relationship with his or her inner self.
Therefore, focusing our communication and tourism management on interiority, I believe, forces us to step out of the market perspective for a moment to recognise that behind religious or spiritual tourism there is a man who is not basically moved by the need for pleasure, but who is driven by a need to connect with a sense of transcendence.
We should ask: what kind of tourists are the religious faithful, what is it that gives meaning to their lives, what mystery do they seek to rediscover in the destination?
Does our traditional management of religious tourism have truly transformative effects for those who visit a spiritual destination?
I would like to focus briefly on these last points.
What can we do to help people who participate in a religious tourism event to achieve a greater rapport with what they have come for, what they are looking for, what they need?
What opportunities does the religious destination give us so that people can reach a spiritual and transcendent dimension that qualifies their lives?
Can we guarantee a religious tourism that qualifies the lives of people who approach the spiritual phenomenon and surrender to the presence of the Mystery by connecting with the Creator Father, with the Holy Virgin or by any other event of religious characteristics?
TOURISM COMMUNICATION AND THE "SPIRITUAL" MARKET
The second approach I propose is presented as questions that require a collective response from all actors: can the laws of the market organise man's spiritual demand?
On the traditional approach to the organisation and communication of religious tourism there are certainly rivers of ink written. But it is necessary to affirm that the current approach to tourism linked to spiritual or religious activity fully complies with all the prerogatives of the laws of the market.
From the traditional perspective of the approach to tourism, the classical questions respond to the basic laws of the market:
a) a resource (apparition, miracle, relic, etc., etc.) is found that naturally calls for awe and veneration.
b) the resource (usually free of charge) is transformed into a product organised to satisfy the demand for visitors.
c) this product is communicated as a transcendent experience.
d) its commercialisation tends to satisfy a need of people who are basically looking for a spiritual or cultural experience.
What is certain is that the type of bond or encounter that generates this spiritual contact at the destination qualifies the soul of the visitor and, by qualifying his soul, it also raises the hierarchy of all his human conditions.
Needless to say, the impact and importance of transcendent life for people is truly significant.
In the specific field of health professionals, the recognition and acceptance of spirituality and religiosity as resources that can favour or help to cope with pain and suffering, both physical and psychological, has also become increasingly relevant.
Research shows that religiosity is an important factor in physical and psychological health. Religious people have less depression, anxiety, stress, suicide and less unhealthy habits such as the consumption of alcohol and other psychoactive substances. Religious people have lower morbidity and mortality rates, better and quicker recoveries from physical illnesses (such as heart surgery or hip eruption), addictions (alcohol and other substances), or post-traumatic stress. This evidence can be related to different psychological strengths that religiosity promotes, especially forgiveness, gratitude, spirituality, justice, hope. According to the contribution of the International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology - April 2019
Addressing these advantages of spiritual tourism will help us to rethink the perspective of tourism communication, generating a communication that does not only seek to satisfy the contextual religious experience: transfer services, accommodation, stays, cultural visits, etc.
I believe that it is time to aspire to a communication that seeks to bring man closer to this sense of transcendence, a communication that reconnects man with God and transforms his life.
We must not forget that the religious sense of destiny requires a communication that transcends the eminently cultural, in order to offer each person the possibility of recovering or strengthening his or her interiority. This is the element that constitutes the central axis and essential motive that moves the faithful to a destiny of a spiritual nature.
It is time to think then of a communication that is not so much centred on the sensitive experience as has been so much talked about in recent years. In this way we have generated a religious tourism based on consumer marketing and not on the development of the human soul.
I believe that we have to go a step further, since it is not only a sensitive experience, but a transcendent experience that builds an intimate and non-transferable bond for each person.
The great challenge will be to break out of the moulds of traditional communication suggested to us by the market and all marketing and communication trends. We must dare to ask ourselves: what is the mysterious and hidden language that operates on our consciousness in relation to the religious fact that each one of us is looking for?
Perhaps the most interesting challenge of tourism communication forces us to step out of the debate on traditional marketing techniques and to begin to take a step further into the deep meanderings of man's relationship with the religious element that our tourist destination offers.
It is not possible to develop spiritual tourism with an empty soul. It is necessary to believe and to hope.
I suggest that faith-based tourism should be essentially spiritual rather than cultural. It is spirituality and a sense of transcendence that are fundamental to people's well-being.
It is necessary for future communicators to assume the spiritual and religious dimension of tourism as part of the development of human beings and societies, so that they are prepared, both senders and receivers of tourism, to know how variables such as faith in God, spiritual well-being, beliefs, convictions and spiritual needs, coping styles, spiritual perspectives, among other aspects inherent to the development of the human person affect tourism activity.
It is pertinent that senders and receivers engage in the mutual commitment to offer all efforts to allow the subjective and wonderful personal encounter with those values, feelings, and transcendent dimensions that qualify individuals and peoples, allowing each one to improve their quality of life and relationships with the environment and others, after finding a new meaning to their lives.
Spirituality, religiosity and empathy. Leónides del Carmen Fuentes. Thesis of the Universidad Católica Argentina https://repositorio.uca.edu.ar/bitstream/123456789/12569/1/espiritualidad-religiosidad-empatia.pdf
Emotion and new spiritualities. Por una perspectiva relacional y situada de los afectos. by Nicolás Viotti - CONICET, Argentina - Antipoda. Revista de Antropología y Arqueología, núm. 28, pp. 175-191, 2017 - Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Universidad de los Andes.
Spiritual Science Research Foundation. https://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/es .
Spirituality, religiosity and empathy. Lic. Leónides del Carmen Fuentes. Thesis from the Universidad Católica Argentina https://repositorio.uca.edu.ar/bitstream/123456789/12569/1/espiritualidad-religiosidad-empatia.pdf
RELIGIOSITY AS A HUMAN STRENGTH. Article from the International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 309-316, 2019Asociación Nacional de Psicología Evolutiva y Educativa de la Infancia, Adolescencia y Mayores. https://www.redalyc.org/journal/3498/349859739032/html/
Mg Lic Adrián Nelso Lomello
Mar del Plata, 28 June 2022.
The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.