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This lecture was originally scheduled as an in-person event in 2020, and has been rescheduled as a webinar in 2021.

Since the 1950s, millions of U.S. Christians have traveled to the Holy Land to visit the places where Jesus lived and died. Why do these pilgrims choose to journey halfway around the world? How do they react to what they encounter, and how do they understand the trip upon return?

Drawing on five years of ethnographic research with groups of pilgrims before, during, and after their trips, Dr. Hillary Kaell (Concordia University) frames the experience as both ordinary — tied to participants’ everyday role as “ritual specialists,” or religious practitioners — and extraordinary, since they travel far away from home, often for the first time.

This talk will examine the kind of Christian education and personal experiences that compel individuals to take the trip, and cover a few key examples of what they find once they arrive. Taking the rare step of following pilgrims after they return home, the talk will also examine whether the trip makes an impact in Christians’ lives over a longer term.

Throughout, the rising popularity of Holy Land pilgrimage is contextualized within changes to U.S. Christian theology and culture over the last sixty years, including shifts in Jewish-Christian relations and the development of a Christian leisure industry. Through explanations of research and context, Dr. Kaell will shed light on how individual Christians make sense of their experiences in Israel-Palestine, offering an important complement to top-down approaches in studies of Christian Zionism and foreign policy.

About the speaker

Hillary Kaell wearing glasses with chin resting on handHillary Kaell completed her doctorate in American Studies at Harvard University, specializing in the history and practice of North American Christianity. Currently, she is associate professor and co-organizer of the Material Religion Initiative at Concordia University in Montreal. She has authored “Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage” (New York University Press, 2014), as well as a number of articles about Christian pilgrimage to Israel-Palestine and Messianic Judaism. Her current book, “Christian Globalism at Home,” examines the development of a global Christian imaginary through the lens of U.S. child sponsorship programs. It is forthcoming with Princeton University Press in 2020. She also serves as senior curator at Anthrocybib website, co-editor of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion’s book series at Palgrave Macmillan press, and has collaborated on public education tools including the Pluralism Project and the PBS television series, God in America.

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