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Abstract

It is widely believed, both by scholars and practitioners of pilgrimage, that during the rite most if not all pilgrims experience communitas - a sense of community, of mutual understanding and acceptance of their fellow ritual initiates that is unfettered by traditional social structures or markers of difference. Nevertheless, evidence indicates that conflict also regularly arises among pilgrims, even as they navigate the same liminoid space in pursuit of a common goal. Pilgrims may experience conflict with one another due to differences in personality, divergent cultural backgrounds, the perception of scarcity of resources, the intrinsic stress of transformation, or myriad other reasons. Differences in personal and group identity do not necessarily fall away or become invisible during pilgrimage; they may even become more deeply inscribed. How do difference and conflict fit into a theoretical and practical understanding of communitas? What happens when markers of social or personal difference follow pilgrims into the liminal or liminoid space? How can pilgrims who seek communitas mitigate and / or make sense of conflict during pilgrimage? The present article attempts to answer these questions, with a focus on the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), drawing on examples from popular and scholarly accounts of pilgrimage as well as research from cultural studies and the social sciences. Finally, some recommendations are offered for the cultivation of communitas, including mindfulness practices and maintenance behaviors.

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