Crossing Thresholds: Movement as a Means of Transformation

Zachary Beckstead

in The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195396430
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Crossing Thresholds: Movement as a Means of Transformation


Any cultural practice in human life is accomplished by some kind of movement within the culturally organized environment. This includes movement in our everyday environments (e.g., home to school and work) and travel that extends beyond our home community. While going from our home to the grocery store entails some form of border crossing (e.g., private 〈 〉1 public), long-distance travel brings us into contact with unfamiliar lands, sights, smells, and people, and involves taking up a social role and position (e.g., soldier, tourist, immigrant, pilgrim). In an age when human mobility is increasing with an emphasis on speed and efficiency, pilgrimage remains a popular form of movement where many varieties of transformation is the goal. Thus, pilgrimage provides a concrete historical and cultural framework for human travel. Pilgrimages can be viewed socially and structurally (e.g., Victor Turner's ideas of communitas and the debates surrounding this), personally and culturally (through looking at material culture relevant for the persons on the move), and in terms of tourism as a version of secularized and commercialized pilgrimage. This paper builds an understanding of pilgrimage from a developmental, cultural, and psychological framework. Elaborating Turner's notion of normative communitas, I examine how pilgrims are guided and constrained toward episodic moments of deep affective value and how these experiences overgeneralize and feed-forward to the pilgrims’ future encounters with the world.

Keywords: pilgrimage; social guidance; semiotic mediation; externalization and internalization process; sacred

Article.  14132 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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