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Cyberpilgrimage: The (Virtual) Reality of Online Pilgrimage Experience

TitleCyberpilgrimage: The (Virtual) Reality of Online Pilgrimage Experience
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsHill-Smith, C
JournalReligion Compass
KeywordsOnline, pilgrimage, Ritual

Cyberpilgrimage is the practice of undertaking pilgrimage on the internet. Such pilgrimages may be performed for a host of reasons, ranging from idle curiosity to the need to ready oneself, psychologically or informationally, for a ‘real’ (terrestrial) pilgrimage. For some web-users, these experiences may amount to little more than interesting diversions, mildly intriguing ripples in a sea of information and possibility, to be paused upon and pondered briefly before surfing onward to other things. Depending on individual motivations and circumstances, however, they can be deeply charged, transformative, enlightening and profoundly fulfilling on both emotional and spiritual levels. As new as the internet is, cyberpilgrimage is newer; and it seems clear we are witnessing the birth of one of a number of largely uncharted ways by which people are beginning to experience themselves spiritually on the internet. Such experiences tend to be perceived as more self-mediated and, thus, more individualised, liberated and radical than terrestrial experiences of a similar sort (though this is not necessarily the case). This article is intended to explain what cyberpilgrimage can entail, to survey the input to-date of contemporary scholars to the study of cyberpilgrimage; and to offer insight into some of the major debates and questions it raises, in particular with regard to the authenticity of computer-based ‘experience’.