I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the concept of atheist pilgrimage, and then I went on one. To quote a younger me:
A pilgrimage is a physical or figurative journey in search of an object, place, or state of being that has personal significance and meaning to the traveler, all of which results in a transformation or redefinition of self. Pilgrimage can be atheistic if the object of the search and/or the search itself embodies the perceived ideals of a worldview that denies supernatural creation, interference, and existence. An atheist pilgrimage narrative … is one in which the traveler sets out on a difficult, focused journey with a defined goal that is either a product or a factor of the traveler’s atheistic worldview. As with other forms of pilgrimage, the atheist pilgrimage is punctuated by offerings and rituals, but these aspects derive their significance primarily from the immediate connection they create between the traveler and the people and objects with whom he interacts in the offering and the ritual.
Many religious and nonreligious people alike may be uncomfortable with my use of the word pilgrimage on this blog, and I understand why – the word has a religious history. I won’t make any arguments here about the evolution of language, but I will say that, as a humanist, I find it meaningful to recognize archetypes that transcend variations in culture, geography, and belief. Whether religious or nonreligious in nature, each pilgrimage is a highly individualized experience; nonetheless, the idea of travel as a mechanism for growth and change is practically universal. Again, quoting my undergraduate self:
…the pilgrim is transformed by the pilgrimage; in many cases this transformation is itself the object of search. The paradox of pilgrimage is that the object of search in a pilgrimage may be highly individualized, while the act of pilgrimage and the pilgrim’s transformation are rites that connect the pilgrim to all humanity, rather than distinguish him from it.
I invite you to read the rest of my essay on the concept of atheist pilgrimage below. Comments welcome.