Baha'i Library Online

TITLESacred spaces and secular visions in the Bahá'í Holy Gardens
AUTHOR 1Elizabeth Kostina
PUB_THISBoston University Libraries
ABSTRACTExploring the interplay between religious practice and heritage tourism at the Bahá’í Holy Gardens in Haifa, revealing a trend towards shared 'spirituality' among pilgrims and tourists.
NOTES Undergraduate Honors Thesis for the Department of Sociology, Boston University. Mirrored from
TAGS- Bahá'í World Centre; - Bahá'í World Centre; Báb, Shrine of; Haifa, Israel; Pilgrimage; Sociology; Tourism
Abstract: This thesis examines the nuanced interplay between religious practice and heritage tourism within the context of UNESCO world heritage sites, focusing specifically on the Bahá’í Holy Gardens in Haifa, Israel. Recognized for their global significance, these sites often face the challenge of balancing their roles as spaces of devout religious practice and attractions for secular tourism. This balance is complicated by an inherent contradiction between preserving sacred spaces for religious adherents and marketing these spaces to a global audience, potentially diluting the depth of religious experience in favor of broad appeal.

Central to this study is the exploration of the dichotomy between tourists and pilgrims at the Bahá’í Holy Gardens, a distinction that illuminates the varied ways in which individuals engage with the site. Despite the clear roles visitors adopt—either as pilgrims engaging in spiritual practices or tourists attracted by the site's beauty and heritage—the study reveals a trend towards a middle-ground 'spirituality' experienced by both groups. This phenomenon suggests a move beyond the binary of religious secularization or 'heritagization', pointing towards the rise of religious pluralism and a shared spiritual experience at religious heritage sites.

Employing a mixed-methods approach, this thesis analyzes 21 interviews with Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í visitors and conducts a content analysis of nearly 6,800 reviews from Google Reviews and TripAdvisor. This data provides insights into how the Bahá’í Gardens serve dual purposes: as a sacred space for the Bahá’í community and as a heritage attraction for global tourists. The findings indicate that, while tourists may not initially recognize the religious significance of the Gardens, their experiences often parallel the profound respect and spirituality described by pilgrims, albeit to varying degrees.

This research addresses three critical questions: the connection of the Bahá’í community to their religious heritage through the Holy Gardens, the reconciliation of contradictory expectations of heritage performance for secular and religious needs, and the contribution of tourists and pilgrims' converging perspectives to a 'secular spirituality'. The comparative analysis of visitor experiences and public perceptions underscores the complex role of the Bahá’í Holy Gardens in mediating between sacred and secular functions, revealing how heritagization is experienced and navigated within this unique religious heritage site.

Through this investigation, the thesis contributes to a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play in religious world heritage sites, offering a novel perspective on the intersection of faith, tourism, and heritage in the contemporary world. It challenges traditional narratives of secularization in heritage spaces, highlighting instead a collaborative emergence of a spirituality that transcends religious boundaries, facilitated by the unique setting of the Bahá’í Holy Gardens.

Click to download: kostina_sacred_secular_gardens.pdf [26 MB].
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