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Star Trek Conventions as Sacred Pilgrimage

I have been doing some reading on anthroplogy of pilgrimage. One particularly helpful book has been Intersecting Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage and Tourism, Ellen Badone and Sharon R. Roseman, eds. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004).

One of the more interesting chapters in the book is “Pilgrimage and the IDIC Ethic: Exploring Star Trek Convention Attendance as Pilgrimage” by Jennifer E. Porter. The chapter begins by referencing the call from anthropologist Victor Turner for students of religion to take the science fiction genre seriously as “futuristic frameworks expressing mythic and liminal states and concerns.” The various series making up the Star Trek franchise is then located within this genre as “one location in which to find religion in our society.” The dots are then connected to the anthropological discussion of pilgrimage and secular tourism. Anthropologist E. Alan Morinis has stated that even secular journeys can be understood as pilgrimage “if made in pursuit of embodied ideals.” Star Trek is known to embody the philosophy of its creator, the late Gene Roddenberry, which can be understood anthropologically as a sacred set of ideals that are then connected to the notion of pilgrimage at conventions, which for many fans function as sacred journeys.

I found this discussion fascinating at a number of levels. First, Roddenberry was well known as a Secular Humanist, and the original series articulated Roddenberry’s vision for the future beyond and without religion. As the series progressed it changed with the times and with the new creative influences that came in touch with Roddenberry’s project. But regardless of whether we are talking about Roddenberry’s Humanist vision, or the postmodern spiritualities that can be seen in subsequent versions of the show, the entire franchise itself embodies a set of ideals that can be understood as sacred.

Second, while this chapter makes a distinction between secular tourism and religious pilgrimage, it also clearly makes a connection between the two, and notes that even visits to secular sites or space (understood geographically as well as in terms of community regardless of location) can fulfill a religious or spiritual dimension akin to religious pilgrimage found in more traditional religious expressions.

All in all this chapter was logical, and took me to places where this man had never gone before. (Sorry, as a Star Trek fan [the original series is the best!] I couldn’t resist this closing with a nod to the original series’ opening narration.)

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