The role of volunteers in pilgrimage studies: Autobiographic reflections on belief and the performance of multiple roles

John Eade, Mario Katic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Given the predominantly secular approach towards religion by anthropologists and sociologists, we contend that a discussion of the researcher’s positionality with regard to faith and belief, as well as the autoethnographic approach in pilgrimage studies, is methodologically important. Drawing on years of volunteering at two pilgrimage sites, we explore what kind of methodological impact our role as volunteers and our private lives have had on both research at and interpretations of the pilgrimage sites. For one of us working as a volunteer was a personal choice motivated by faith, while for the other it was based on the pragmatics of doing research. In both cases gaining access involved the generation of social capital through the gifting of time and free labor within a hierarchical structure of power exchange. Our role as volunteers gave us an opportunity to explore the faith-based positionality and self-interest which informs pilgrimage volunteering and involves power exchange. Our article seeks to show how we address our own religious beliefs but, at the same time, stay grounded in ethnographic observations and analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Article number
Pages (from-to)580-593
Number of pages14
JournalHAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • volunteers, religious pilgrimage, positionality, autobiographic approach, faith

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