Learning from experience: The value of analysing Avalon

Bowman, Marion (2009). Learning from experience: The value of analysing Avalon. Religion, 39(2) pp. 161–168.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.religion.2009.01.016


In this article some of the experiences and insights gained from roughly fifteen years of conducting a long term study of Glastonbury are examined. Glastonbury, a small town in the south west of England, has become a multivalent pilgrimage site for a variety of spiritual seekers, and an icon of integrative spirituality (my preferred term for ‘alternative’ or ‘New Age’ spirituality). The concept of vernacular religion is explained, and its appropriateness in relation to both place-centred study and research into integrative spirituality is demonstrated. The rationale and some of the methodological complexities underlying this type of study are explored, and some of the trends and phenomena that the long term observation of one location has revealed are considered. The contextual detail and depth of knowledge gained from such long term study feed into an appreciation of both the internal dynamics of Christianity in Glastonbury, for example, and the growing institutionalisation of the Glastonbury Goddess movement and the spread of its influence through a variety of conduits. The role of the internet in framing expectations and presentations of Glastonbury is examined, and research relating to its unique spiritual service industry is briefly summarised. While Glastonbury is by no means ‘typical’, it is indicative of a number of trends in relation to ‘integrative’ spirituality and therefore lessons learned from there can have wider implications for the study of phenomena increasingly common in the contemporary milieu.

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