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Walking Where Jesus Walked

American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage

Hillary Kaell

Publication Year: 2014

Since the 1950s, millions of American Christians have traveled to the Holy Land to visit places in Israel and the Palestinian territories associated with Jesus’s life and death. 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? This book places the answers to these questions into the context of broad historical trends, analyzing how the growth of mass-market evangelical and Catholic pilgrimage relates to changes in American Christian theology and culture over the last sixty years, including shifts in Jewish-Christian relations, the growth of small group spirituality, and the development of a Christian leisure industry.

Drawing on five years of research with pilgrims before, during and after their trips, Walking Where Jesus Walked offers a lived religion approach that explores the trip’s hybrid nature for pilgrims themselves: both ordinary—tied to their everyday role as the family’s ritual specialists, and extraordinary—since they leave home in a dramatic way, often for the first time. Their experiences illuminate key tensions in contemporary US Christianity between material evidence and transcendent divinity, commoditization and religious authority, domestic relationships and global experience.

Hillary Kaell crafts the first in-depth study of the cultural and religious significance of American Holy Land pilgrimage after 1948. The result sheds light on how Christian pilgrims, especially women, make sense of their experience in Israel-Palestine, offering an important complement to top-down approaches in studies of Christian Zionism and foreign policy.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page, Quote

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments and Methodology

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pp. xi-xiv

This book is about global travel and life-cycle transitions, about a lucrative leisure industry and trends in contemporary U.S. Christianity. Fundamentally, though, it is about relationships—with family and friends, with heavenly beings, and with people encountered abroad. It is appropriate...

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pp. 1-28

Dale and I are waiting for the quiche to cool. It’s her culinary specialty, brags her husband Glen laughingly. In front of me is a display on a shelf near the stove: small olive wood carvings, a miniature jug of water, a set of glass salt and pepper shakers filled with more water and sand—Holy...

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1. Knowing the Holy Land: Sunday School Lessons and the Six O’Clock News

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pp. 29-50

Helen has worshipped at the same Baptist church for fifty years. It is a small red-brick building with a classic white steeple in the countryside east of Raleigh, North Carolina. The main artistic adornment is a wall-length baptistery painting at the front of the sanctuary depicting the...

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2. Soul Searching: Why Grandparents Go Abroad

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pp. 51-75

For two years Helen watched Wally, her husband of nearly fifty years, die. Day after day she took him to the cancer and radiology center, where he underwent treatment that only seemed to worsen his condition. She remembers...

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3. Feeling the Gospel: Evangelicals, Place, and Presence

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pp. 76-98

In 1928, as Protestant journalist William T. Ellis walked through the streets of Jerusalem, he was suddenly overcome by the “veritable presence” of Jesus as “the actual scenes of the life of Christ” “flooded” his mind. This “mood of place-consciousness,” he writes, is inevitable for...

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4. The Middle Generation: Catholics, Scripture, and Tradition

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pp. 99-121

Janine has sparkling blue eyes and wears her gray hair in pigtails. She looked young for sixty-three as she sat across from me in Bethlehem, sharing a falafel sandwich with her husband, Frank. It was the first day of our trip and we made small talk about the food, the weather...

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5. God and Mammon, God and Caesar: Commerce and Politics in the Holy Land

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pp. 122-159

“Catholics don’t believe this,” Father Mike reminded us as we descended the steep stairs into the Orthodox Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary at the Mount of Olives.1 It was cool inside and filled with incense. In the darkness, hundreds of lamps and candles burned, reflecting light...

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6 The Long Voyage Home: Transformation and Rituals of Return

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pp. 160-196

Connie describes her pilgrimage two years ago as a fluke. There just happened to be a spot open, so she signed up. As she elaborates, however, she begins to contextualize it as the culmination of a series of events. Connie grew up in a working-class Irish Catholic family in Queens...

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pp. 197-208

On the first day of Pastor Jim’s trip, the pilgrims emerged bleary-eyed from the Tel Aviv airport, having just arrived on an overnight flight from New York City. But Gilad’s enthusiasm was infectious. He grabbed the microphone as we settled into our seats on the bus. “Israel,” he...


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pp. 209-240


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pp. 241-260


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pp. 261-268

About the Author

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pp. 269

E-ISBN-13: 9780814738252
E-ISBN-10: 0814738257
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814738368
Print-ISBN-10: 0814738362

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2014