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The Cognition of Hardship Experience in Himalayan Pilgrimage

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This article discusses experiences of hardship during Hindu pilgrimages in the Nepalese and Tibetan Himalayas. Pilgrims have to reach their goal by undertaking a journey. The pilgrimage exposes pilgrims to a variety of experiences. The journey’s religious experiences are of significance for the ritual arrangements of the pilgrimage. Cognitive theories and the selectionist approach of “cultural epidemiology” are adopted to offer explanations for the formation of religious beliefs and values associated with travelling experience, hardship and danger during pilgrimage. Specifically, it is argued that the experience of salient emotional events such as hardship are likely to draw upon evolved social exchange intuitions that impose a selective pressure in the cultural formation and recurrence of beliefs regarding religious merits in pilgrimage. It is further argued that social exchange intuitions are a likely source of beliefs in boons and merits, since pilgrimage is already conceptualised as an interaction with “supernatural agents.” These accounts modify and elaborate former suggestions regarding hardship and sacrificial notions in pilgrimage studies. Thus the presented arguments may be relevant to understanding some of the features of pilgrimage that also seem to recur cross-culturally.

Affiliations: 1: Social Anthropology, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg Konstepidemins väg 2, P. O. Box 700, SE 405 30 Gothenburg Sweden, Email:


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