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Author Topic: The ethics of tourism around religious sites  (Read 5292 times)

Redfaery

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The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« on: July 19, 2014, 02:20:17 pm »
Hi all! It is 3:08 am in Japan, still not quite recovered from jet lag....:whis:

So I went on my first little outing yesterday, and thanks to the wonderful ladies at the front desk (whose English sounds better than mine!) I was able to find the religious spots near my hotel. But here's where things get strange. I visited the Gasshoji thinking I would be fine to take a couple of pictures, but when I walked in, I saw the cemetery and realized "this is where people keep their dead. People WORSHIP here." Not only that, but it just had this aura of a place where I should not take pictures. It just didn't seem appropriate.

I went on to the Benten chapel in Inokashima, but was too busy fangirling to even consider snapping a picture before entering. However, as I was in there, some other Western tourists crossed onto the little bridge and just stopped. They were talking loudly (I couldn't understand about what; I think they were speaking in French). Then one of them took out their camera and started taking pictures.

And I felt irritated. They didn't come in and look around. They just stood there and stared like it was another tourist site, and not a place where people (including me, actually!) were praying.

I wonder about all this because I know plenty of tourists flock to the Vatican and other famous churches, for example. That doesn't make me so uncomfortable, even if the tourists are non-Western and know little about Catholicism. Maybe it's because those big churches are different from a little Benten chapel somehow? Perhaps because the Catholic Church is a massive sociopolitical cultural organization, and a better analogy would be Japanese tourists walking into a small Baptist church and just gawking at the worshipers.

Thoughts?
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Altair

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2014, 04:24:22 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;153325

I wonder about all this because I know plenty of tourists flock to the Vatican and other famous churches, for example. That doesn't make me so uncomfortable, even if the tourists are non-Western and know little about Catholicism. Maybe it's because those big churches are different from a little Benten chapel somehow? Perhaps because the Catholic Church is a massive sociopolitical cultural organization, and a better analogy would be Japanese tourists walking into a small Baptist church and just gawking at the worshipers.

Thoughts?

Well, your last example certainly happens here in NYC; busloads of tourists from the world over, having no interest in the religion being practiced, flock to Harlem churches just to hear the gospel choirs. On the flip side, I've been one of the masses of non-Buddhist tourists who flock to the Buddhist temple in Tengboche in the Himalaya to watch their service (it was remarkable).

I think the reason why taking photos and being less than devotional in these sites felt wrong to you is because *you* consider these places sacred. I had the same sense of violation when I was at Iguazu, the enormous South American waterfall that I consider sacred ground, and some idiot tourist was treating it as his water park. We take a dim eye to any practice that is less than utterly respectful in a place we deem sacred ground.

So what to do when you're that tourist? Be respectful. Almost all these places are accustomed to tourists--and benefit from their visits, usually financially--so I don't fret that I shouldn't be there just because I'm not there to worship. But I follow whatever rules they lay down: silence if that's what the sign says (and sometimes even when it doesn't, and in any case always a low voice), proper attire, no photos/no flash except when/where permitted, etc.

F'ex, at Uluru (aka Ayers Rock)--the massive monolith at the heart of Australia, literally and figuratively--it is permitted to climb the rock...but the Aborigines who run the place ask that you don't, out of respect for its sanctity in their belief system. I kinda wanted to climb, but out of respect, I opted for a base tour of the rock instead. Best decision I ever made, on a number of levels, incl. the fact that I gained insight into their religion from the tour that a stupid climb never would have given me.

So follow the rules. And if it feels wrong to you, as snapping photos at a given moment did to you at Gasshoji, then don't do it.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2014, 04:25:12 pm by Altair »
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Altair

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2014, 04:38:11 pm »
Quote from: Altair;153334

But I follow whatever rules they lay down


P.S. It pays to research what those rules are beforehand; it blows to plan your entire day around visiting a particular shrine, only to discover they don't admit folks wearing shorts, and you left the hotel in cutoffs.

And some of these rules can be quite specific: remove your hat; or put on a mandatory head covering; or never let the soles of your feet point towards the altar;...
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The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

missgraceless

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2014, 04:46:11 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;153325

Thoughts?

 
Everything that Altair has already said. ALWAYS be respectful and follow the rules. Also, leave an offering of some sort, be it food, money, incense, whatever they have.

Near my mom's house there's a state park that has a small (only about 25 ft) waterfall/pool that's called Sacred Well. I always went there to meditate, pray, or just relax. And like Altair's example, people treat it like some spring break hot spot. Drinking, smoking weed, jumping off the cliffs, etc.
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Altair

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2014, 05:21:13 pm »
Quote from: missgraceless;153337

Near my mom's house there's a state park that has a small (only about 25 ft) waterfall/pool that's called Sacred Well. I always went there to meditate, pray, or just relax. And like Altair's example, people treat it like some spring break hot spot. Drinking, smoking weed, jumping off the cliffs, etc.


In such cases, people like us just have to suck it up and deal. It's not like these folks know it's a sacred spot to us. (Though with a name like "Sacred Well," maybe they could figure it out.) It's not necessarily obvious to a non-pagan, the way a church/temple is obviously somebody's sacred ground. We appreciate it on one level, they on another.

In my case with my "water park" tourist, I took it as a message. Sure, this is sacred ground, but that doesn't also mean that it can't be FUN!

As long as the party-funtime folks don't leave their litter behind. Those people should be shot.
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Redfaery

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2014, 07:24:52 pm »
Quote from: Altair;153334
Well, your last example certainly happens here in NYC; busloads of tourists from the world over, having no interest in the religion being practiced, flock to Harlem churches just to hear the gospel choirs. On the flip side, I've been one of the masses of non-Buddhist tourists who flock to the Buddhist temple in Tengboche in the Himalaya to watch their service (it was remarkable).

I think the reason why taking photos and being less than devotional in these sites felt wrong to you is because *you* consider these places sacred. I had the same sense of violation when I was at Iguazu, the enormous South American waterfall that I consider sacred ground, and some idiot tourist was treating it as his water park. We take a dim eye to any practice that is less than utterly respectful in a place we deem sacred ground.

So what to do when you're that tourist? Be respectful. Almost all these places are accustomed to tourists--and benefit from their visits, usually financially--so I don't fret that I shouldn't be there just because I'm not there to worship. But I follow whatever rules they lay down: silence if that's what the sign says (and sometimes even when it doesn't, and in any case always a low voice), proper attire, no photos/no flash except when/where permitted, etc.

F'ex, at Uluru (aka Ayers Rock)--the massive monolith at the heart of Australia, literally and figuratively--it is permitted to climb the rock...but the Aborigines who run the place ask that you don't, out of respect for its sanctity in their belief system. I kinda wanted to climb, but out of respect, I opted for a base tour of the rock instead. Best decision I ever made, on a number of levels, incl. the fact that I gained insight into their religion from the tour that a stupid climb never would have given me.

So follow the rules. And if it feels wrong to you, as snapping photos at a given moment did to you at Gasshoji, then don't do it.


I think you're absolutely right. What bugged me about these tourists was that they didn't even come over the bridge to look around and see what was actually inside. They just stood there and stared, and talked to each other loudly like it was just the craziest thing they'd ever seen. So I found their attitude disrespectful. I wouldn't have cared at all if they'd come in and looked at everything. That's just the Sarasvati girl in me, wanting people to learn, I think.;)

I just came back from there, since I always do a ritual on Sunday. It felt so wonderful to be there, and this time to actually worship. I bought incense and a fortune, and rang the bell. But I also am aware the other worshipers know I am a foreigner and an outsider. Yet I felt strangely welcomed. Nobody stared at me or gave me dirty looks, even when I went to the purification pavilion and attempted to rinse my hands (I was kind of embarrassed to see that this chapel/shrine has one; I wasn't looking for one, since it doesn't have a Torii, and I'd marked it down as Buddhist).

Still, I actually felt like my presence there was accepted, even welcomed as being...how to say it? Cute or sweet, perhaps. An elderly lady saw me wandering around, staring at the shrine itself with what must have been an awestruck expression. She looked me right in the face and gave a very warm smile. The whole trip was just worth it for that.
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Jenett

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2014, 07:51:51 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;153325

I wonder about all this because I know plenty of tourists flock to the Vatican and other famous churches, for example. That doesn't make me so uncomfortable, even if the tourists are non-Western and know little about Catholicism. Maybe it's because those big churches are different from a little Benten chapel somehow? Perhaps because the Catholic Church is a massive sociopolitical cultural organization, and a better analogy would be Japanese tourists walking into a small Baptist church and just gawking at the worshipers.

 
I was thinking about this touring the Baltimore basilica in May (it was across the street from the library where I was doing something later that day).

There's a couple of things for me:

1) What do the people in that religion, and in particular, running that religious site think about it?

Generally, if a place is open to tourists, I assume that it's something the people in that religion and that space have given careful consideration to, and choose to do, for a variety of reasons. (Whether that's spiritual, or about sharing their faith or practices with others, or whether it's financial and tourist money helps keep the roof from not leaking, or quite likely a combination.)

2) Is the way in which I am being a tourist/not a member of that religion interfering with the practice of the religion by the people who practice it?

In the case of the basilica tour, the cathedral is not being used for religious services at 9am on a random Thursday. (They do their morning mass at 8am, and the tour is after that.) So it's a time when they can show off a (lovely) historical building, talk about the Catholic history of Baltimore (fascinating) and get good will for the building, maybe a bit in donations, and so on.

I generally prefer to avoid times when active services are going on, because even if it's nominally allowed, that feels a lot more rude to me. (In settings where there's a set specific service, that is: if it's a shrine where things are left all day, that's a bit different.)

3) Am I doing the reasonable things to be respectful of the space and its primary intended use?

This includes things like "It is rude to go into churches not wearing suitable clothes" and wearing what's considered suitable for that space.

It includes being respectful about my reasons for being there (personally, if it's just "Oooh, pretty" that's probably not enough for me, but a desire to learn about the history of the space, what that space has meant for that religious community, the history and meaning of whatever art, etc. is much more comfortable for me.)

It includes me understanding enough about the space and religion to understand what might be seen as problematic or disruptive or whatever. (Are photos appropriate? Are some kinds of photos okay and not others? Etc.)

Doing things that disrupted the ability of the people who are using it fully as a religious space is something I consider extremely problematic - that's like your loud talking example, or taking photos in a way that disrupted spiritual practices, or whatever.

4) If there's spaces I'd like to see but are not generally open to the public deliberately (i.e. not a place with facilities for tourists, like tours or open hours or other things), then this is what asking is for.

(There can be totally reasonable reasons for wanting to see Random Small Church - maybe a grandparent or other ancestor or whatever was active there in their youth, or was buried there, or whatever, or you're doing some other sort of research that makes it relevant. But generally staff are glad to help then.)
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missgraceless

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2014, 08:57:16 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;153346
I was thinking about this touring the Baltimore basilica in May (it was across the street from the library where I was doing something later that day).

There's a couple of things for me:

1) What do the people in that religion, and in particular, running that religious site think about it?

Generally, if a place is open to tourists, I assume that it's something the people in that religion and that space have given careful consideration to, and choose to do, for a variety of reasons. (Whether that's spiritual, or about sharing their faith or practices with others, or whether it's financial and tourist money helps keep the roof from not leaking, or quite likely a combination.)

2) Is the way in which I am being a tourist/not a member of that religion interfering with the practice of the religion by the people who practice it?

In the case of the basilica tour, the cathedral is not being used for religious services at 9am on a random Thursday. (They do their morning mass at 8am, and the tour is after that.) So it's a time when they can show off a (lovely) historical building, talk about the Catholic history of Baltimore (fascinating) and get good will for the building, maybe a bit in donations, and so on.

I generally prefer to avoid times when active services are going on, because even if it's nominally allowed, that feels a lot more rude to me. (In settings where there's a set specific service, that is: if it's a shrine where things are left all day, that's a bit different.)

3) Am I doing the reasonable things to be respectful of the space and its primary intended use?

This includes things like "It is rude to go into churches not wearing suitable clothes" and wearing what's considered suitable for that space.

It includes being respectful about my reasons for being there (personally, if it's just "Oooh, pretty" that's probably not enough for me, but a desire to learn about the history of the space, what that space has meant for that religious community, the history and meaning of whatever art, etc. is much more comfortable for me.)

It includes me understanding enough about the space and religion to understand what might be seen as problematic or disruptive or whatever. (Are photos appropriate? Are some kinds of photos okay and not others? Etc.)

Doing things that disrupted the ability of the people who are using it fully as a religious space is something I consider extremely problematic - that's like your loud talking example, or taking photos in a way that disrupted spiritual practices, or whatever.

4) If there's spaces I'd like to see but are not generally open to the public deliberately (i.e. not a place with facilities for tourists, like tours or open hours or other things), then this is what asking is for.

(There can be totally reasonable reasons for wanting to see Random Small Church - maybe a grandparent or other ancestor or whatever was active there in their youth, or was buried there, or whatever, or you're doing some other sort of research that makes it relevant. But generally staff are glad to help then.)

This is about as detailed as one can possibly get.
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Altair

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2014, 10:14:52 pm »
Quote from: missgraceless;153359
This is about as detailed as one can possibly get.


That's our Jenett! Always very thoughtful.
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Redfaery

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2014, 10:28:00 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;153346
Doing things that disrupted the ability of the people who are using it fully as a religious space is something I consider extremely problematic - that's like your loud talking example, or taking photos in a way that disrupted spiritual practices, or whatever.

 
This was the thing that bugged me the most about what they did. The shrine is entered via a little arched bridge that's about wide enough for 3-4 people to comfortably walk across at once. All 4 of them were spread out right at the midpoint, effectively blocking anyone who wanted to get in. They stood there, talking to each other and snapping pictures, blocking the walk.
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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #10 on: July 19, 2014, 11:52:02 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;153325
Thoughts?

I had a similar experience at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, although less *religious*.  Obviously, the site is part of a complex that not only welcomes tourists, but survives on them. So I didn't have an issue with that -- I *was* one of those tourists. It was how some people acted while actually on the memorial that bothered me.

For those who aren't familiar with it, the memorial is a structure that was built over the sunken USS Arizona, which was one of the ships destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The ship is still there, quite visible, just under the surface of the water (and partly above the surface), immediately below the memorial.

The key element, to me, is that the bodies of most of the people who died aboard the ship are still there. In fact, the ashes of many sailors who survived the attack and died later -- sometimes decades later -- have been interred there, too.  The place is literally a cemetery.  And, since the memorial is accessible only by a shuttle boat, which you board after seeing a film about the attack and the memorial, it's very difficult not to be aware of that fact.

It really bothered me that people were treating it as a smiling, wish-you-were-here photo op. I didn't mind photography in general, and took many pics myself. It was the attitude of "we're here in Hawai'i having so much FUN, wahoo!" that bothered me. I can't imagine anyone behaving like that at Ground Zero in New York. (But I haven't been there. Unfortunately, I guess I actually *can* imagine it. Sigh...)

I don't really have anything to add to the excellent guidelines Altair and Jenett have suggested.  Just saying that this isn't always a specifically religious issue. It's about respect, which can take many forms.
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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2014, 07:42:44 am »
Quote from: Redfaery;153365
This was the thing that bugged me the most about what they did. The shrine is entered via a little arched bridge that's about wide enough for 3-4 people to comfortably walk across at once. All 4 of them were spread out right at the midpoint, effectively blocking anyone who wanted to get in. They stood there, talking to each other and snapping pictures, blocking the walk.


That's just plain rudeness, regardless of whether the locale is sacred or not. I have to deal with that kind of self-centered obliviousness here on the streets of NYC all the time.
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The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2014, 07:55:06 am »
Quote from: Aster Breo;153372

It really bothered me that people were treating it as a smiling, wish-you-were-here photo op. I didn't mind photography in general, and took many pics myself. It was the attitude of "we're here in Hawai'i having so much FUN, wahoo!" that bothered me. I can't imagine anyone behaving like that at Ground Zero in New York. (But I haven't been there. Unfortunately, I guess I actually *can* imagine it. Sigh...)



You took the Ground Zero example right out of my mouth. It's the same principle as with sacred religious sites: Show respect, in the cases of Pearl Harbor and Ground Zero (or, say, Auschwitz or Robben Island or the Gate of No Return in Ghana,...), for what happened there, which doesn't require any religious context. Just a little human empathy.

You saw that oafish behavior at Pearl Harbor because the wound has faded into time gone by. At Ground Zero, it's still living memory for too many people, so you're far less likely to encounter light-hearted clowning at the site...but give it a few decades.
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #13 on: July 20, 2014, 02:05:31 pm »
Quote from: Altair;153405
At Ground Zero, it's still living memory for too many people, so you're far less likely to encounter light-hearted clowning at the site...but give it a few decades.

Sadly, I suspect you're right.  Time heals all wounds, and all that.
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Re: The ethics of tourism around religious sites
« Reply #14 on: July 20, 2014, 10:08:21 pm »
Quote from: Aster Breo;153419
Sadly, I suspect you're right.  Time heals all wounds, and all that.

 
I was at Ground Zero about a year ago (granted, I'm not a local, so maybe I went on a weird day) and I saw a lot people doing the 'lighthearted clowning' thing, and then selfies happened. Duckface selfies. I wanted to kick them in their pieces parts.

People, I think, need to be aware of what any important site means before they enter it. Because otherwise they trample the significance of it and to me, that's not okay.
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