Walking Where Jesus Walked

American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage

288 pages

19 halftones

July, 2014

ISBN: 9781479831845



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Hillary Kaell is Assistant Professor of Religion at Concordia University in Montreal.

All books by Hillary Kaell

Since the 1950s, millions of American Christians have traveled to the Holy Land to visit places in Israel and the Palestinian territories associated with Jesus’s life and death. Why do these pilgrims choose to journey halfway around the world? How do they react to what they encounter, and how do they understand the trip upon return? This book places the answers to these questions into the context of broad historical trends, analyzing how the growth of mass-market evangelical and Catholic pilgrimage relates to changes in American Christian theology and culture over the last sixty years, including shifts in Jewish-Christian relations, the growth of small group spirituality, and the development of a Christian leisure industry.

Drawing on five years of research with pilgrims before, during and after their trips, Walking Where Jesus Walked offers a lived religion approach that explores the trip’s hybrid nature for pilgrims themselves: both ordinary—tied to their everyday role as the family’s ritual specialists, and extraordinary—since they leave home in a dramatic way, often for the first time. Their experiences illuminate key tensions in contemporary US Christianity between material evidence and transcendent divinity, commoditization and religious authority, domestic relationships and global experience.

Hillary Kaell crafts the first in-depth study of the cultural and religious significance of American Holy Land pilgrimage after 1948. The result sheds light on how Christian pilgrims, especially women, make sense of their experience in Israel-Palestine, offering an important complement to top-down approaches in studies of Christian Zionism and foreign policy.


  • "This book shows us how Holy Land pilgrimage is embedded in the everyday lives of pilgrims, before and after their trip. But it also does much more. We learn how the Holy Land occupies a powerful place in the American religious imagination, and examine what it means to be Protestant or Catholic in an age of contested modernity."

    —Simon Coleman, University of Toronto

  • “Offers an intimate and searching account of the experience of contemporary American Protestant and Catholic pilgrims to the Holy Land. Kaell made the journeys with them, beginning in their homes as they made the decision to go, and her attentiveness to what the pilgrims—in particular the older women who comprise the majority of such tour groups—told her en route about their lives, their fears and their hopes, gives the book an extraordinary depth of analysis and understanding. Because pilgrims’ travels are always as much internal as they are geographical, Walking Where Jesus Walked opens out to examine important questions concerning how women in the United States confront issues of aging, loss, sickness, and shifting family roles and responsibilities. Written with exceptional narrative grace and critical insight, this book is a model of ethnographic research in the study of religion.”

    —Robert A. Orsi, Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies, Northwestern University

  • "With this fine book, readers are treated to a fascinating intellectual journey, following American Catholics and Protestants on pilgrimage, in quest of the place where Jesus walked. Kaell's ethnography reveals who they are, why they go, and what they find. Her answers illuminate the rich intercultural, commercial, and sensory encounters that organize the modern pilgrim's experience. Bolstered by a solid sense of history, clear prose, and an eye for the telling detail, Kaell's account richly contributes to the interdisciplinary study of American religion."

    —David Morgan, Duke University

  • "Kaell assembles a thoughtful, well-written, and well-argued study of Christian pilgrimage in the modern US."


  • “Clearly its strengths lie not in generalization or the sociological big picture, but in the personal accounts, richly presented, empathetically caught, and traced over several years with a number of individuals, which form its substance.  The result is a revealing, sometimes moving portrait of confronting the ‘other’ and making sense of the events of life in relation to that.” 

    Catholic Historical Review

  • “Hillary Kaell’s Walking Where Jesus Walked sheds a fascinating light on the individual experiences of Christian pilgrims from the United States as they travel to the “Holy Land” of Israel and the Palestinian territories and return home.”

    American Ethnologist

  • "A fascinating and sensitive look at Catholic and Evangelical Protestant travelers to the biblical origin of their faith."

    Marginalia Review of Books