As a tourist in the city of London, it seems nearly impossible to not experience the phenomenon known as “religious tourism.” Before I even try to define the term, let me first explain where I’m coming from. Almost no matter what your interested in seeing in London, it’s impossible to experience it without acknowledging the rich religious history that this city clearly has. If you want to see different eras of architecture, there’s a cathedral for that. If you want to see different styles of art, there’s a cathedral for that. Especially if you want to see anything historical, there are a many cathedrals for that.
In addition to the fact that there is such a rich religious history, in such a world capital there is a rich religious diversity. There is probably a place of worship for you here. Though I haven’t yet, I plan on visiting what is the very first Swedenborgian church ever, really, the first one! I think it would be cool to see the differences and similarities to what I grew up attending, especially considering my grandfather was the preacher. Were there things lost in translation, or even translocation?
My theory of religious tourism however sits at this. Though exposure to the deep history and significant diversity is an amazing opportunity, and one that should be seized, its not the best way to fully explore religion. As I’m somewhat expecting to find when I visit the church under the same name I grew up attending, I’ll still be an outsider, little more than a tourist to them. I think these are the fears that I have, not only seeing what I’ve already been exposed to, but in also visiting places of worship that I have much less exposure too.
I fear that although I’ll be able see and hear these different religions, I would never be able to truly feel where they are coming from, and if I cannot feel how they are feeling how would I be able to understand it. I think, though, that this is the trouble with studying religion in any sense. You can know the literature, the morals, the traditions, but you can never know how they feel.
But the “religious tourism sword”, is as well, double-edged. If these sacred places are consistently exposed to a flow of tourists, how genuine is it really? I saw a lot of this at Westminster Abbey. They consistently announced over a PA system that Westminster is “first and foremost a place of worship” right before they held prayers, lets be honest, that doesn’t seem intimate or genuine, as a church should be. How can someone pray over the consistent shuffling of tourists and chants of tour guides? I fear, that places that truly want to be first and foremost a place of worship, they would almost express bitterness towards tourists who come just to look, not to experience or feel. While on the other side as a tourist, you can’t help but feel that you’re just being disrespectful and disrupting peoples prayer and meditation.