Pilgrimage to the National Parks: Religion and Nature in the United States, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Pilgrimage to the National Parks

Religion and Nature in the United States, 1st Edition

By Lynn Ross-Bryant


308 pages | 32 B/W Illus.

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National Parks – ‘America’s Best Idea’ – were from the first seen as sacred sites embodying the God-given specialness of American people and American land, and from the first they were also marked as tourist attractions. The inherent tensions between these two realities ensured the parks would be stages where the country’s conflicting values would be performed and contested. As pilgrimage sites embody the values and beliefs of those who are drawn to them, so Americans could travel to these sacred places to honor, experience, and be restored by the powers that had created the American land and the American enterprise.

This book explores the importance of the discourse of nature in American culture, arguing that the attributes and symbolic power that had first been associated with the ‘new world’ and then the ‘frontier’ were embodied in the National Parks. Author Ross-Bryant focuses on National Parks as pilgrimage sites around which a discourse of nature developed and argues the centrality of religion in understanding the dynamics of both the language and the ritual manifestations related to National Parks. Beyond the specific contribution to a richer analysis of the National Parks and their role in understanding nature and religion in the U.S., this volume contributes to the emerging field of ‘religion and the environment,’ larger issues in the study of religion (e.g. cultural events and the spatial element in meaning-making), and the study of non-institutional religion.


"If nature, nation, and God have been three of the most crucial orienting ideas of American history, Lynn Ross-Bryant shows here how this trinity has come together at one of the nation’s distinct forms of sacred space: the national parks. This is a lucid and penetrating analysis of what these places have meant, both for those who have made pigrimages to them over the last century and a half, and for many of those who stayed behind." -- Adrian Ivakhiv, University of Vermont

Table of Contents

Introduction: Our National Parks Part I: The New World 1. Yosemite: New World Sublimity 2. The Dream of Yellowstone: Progress in the Pristine Land Part II: See America First 3. Seeing America in Grand Canyon and Glacier National Parks 4. The National Park Idea Part III: Wilderness and Beyond 5. Mythic and Scientific America 6. The Wilderness Idea 7. Unbounded Possibilities Epilogue: Pilgrimage and the Future of the National Parks Bibliography Index

About the Author

Lynn Ross-Bryant is Associate Professor Emerita in the Department of Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder. Recent work has been on American nature writers, including "The Land in American Religious Experience" and on the national parks including "Sacred Sites: Nature and Nation in the National Parks" and "Ken Burns and American Mythology in The National Parks: America’s Best Idea."

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Pilgrimage, Religious Travel and Tourism

The public prominence of religion has increased globally in recent years, while places associated with religion, such as pilgrimage centers, and famous cathedrals, temples and shrines, have attracted growing numbers of visitors and media attention. Such developments are part of a global process where different forms of travel – physical movement such as labor and lifestyle migration, tourism of various forms, the cultural heritage industry and pilgrimage – have become a major feature of the modern world. These translocal and transnational processes involve flows of not just people but also material objects, ideas, information, images and capital.

The public prominence of religion aligned to the modern growth of tourism (sometimes now claimed as the world’s single largest industry) has created a new dynamic relationship between religion, travel and tourism. It has been mirrored by expanding academic research in these areas over the last twenty years across a variety of disciplinary areas, ranging from anthropology, sociology, geography, history and religious studies to newly emergent areas such as tourism and migration studies. Such studies have also expanded exponentially in terms of the geographic spread of places, religions and regions being researched.

This series provides a new forum for studies based around these themes, drawing together research on the relationships between religion, travel and tourism. These include studies from global and cross-cultural perspectives of topics, such as:

  • commoditization and consumerism;
  • media representations of religion, travel and tourism;
  • heritage, tourism and the cultural politics of religious representation;
  • gender, sexuality and religious movements;
  • religion and travel writing;
  • ideological and violent struggles over religion and resistance to tourist intrusion;
  • inter-religious engagement;
  • religion, tourism, landscape and performance; and
  • thanatourism and pilgrimage to sites of suffering.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
NATURE / Environmental Conservation & Protection
NATURE / Animals / Wildlife
NATURE / Natural Resources
NATURE / Ecosystems & Habitats / Wilderness
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / History
RELIGION / Spirituality
RELIGION / Religion, Politics & State
RELIGION / Religion & Science