Contextualising Virtual Pilgrimage in Buddhism


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date10 Nov 2021


In light of the expanding investments and research on the digital representations of Buddhist pilgrimage sites using new technologies such as 3D scanning, virtual reality and other immersive visualisation installations, the digitisation and transmission of Buddhist pilgrimage sites as cultural heritage have been an increasing focus of museums, governments and other heritage management authorities. On the one hand, these initiatives of digital Buddhist pilgrimage sites are part of the growing attention to digital museology since the 1990s, according to Tim Hart and Sarah Kenderdine (2003), yet prior research on immersive visualisation of religious heritage sites has been undertaken largely from the perspectives of museology and cultural tourism, falling short of the religious perspective. On the other hand, the existing research in religious studies on the digital representation of pilgrimage practice, or “virtual pilgrimage”, has been deemed too vague by Hill-Smith (2009), who among other researchers (Helland, 2015; Travagnin, 2016) has called for further research in this religion-specific area of scholarship. Remedying these research gaps requires better understanding of the religious meaning of virtual pilgrimage specifically in the Buddhist context, in order to guide future development and investments in the digitisation and transmission of Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Based on the concepts of cultural consumption (Campbell, 1983, 1987, 1993, 1995, 2018) and contingent resistance (Saukko, 2003), this study deploys the speculative research method to contextualise Buddhist virtual pilgrimage from the analysis of Buddhist scriptures; historical records of ancient pilgrims; existing research on Buddhist pilgrimage; and contemporary applications of new technologies in the Buddhist community. The result of this study is a conceptual paradigm comprised of the sensory, narrative and participatory levels of Buddhist virtual pilgrimage experience, through which a series of religious implications at each level are generated.