Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations


Women's Pilgrimage as Repertoiric Performance: Creating Gender and Spiritual Identity through Ritual

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Jonathan Chambers, PhD

Second Advisor

Ronald Shields, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Scott Magelssen, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jane Rodgers, PhD (Committee Member)


Through the spiritual practice of contemporary spirituality, women pilgrims perform and constitute gendered and spiritual identities in ways that are often highly unorthodox. However, pilgrimage allows participants to re-see religious history, so as to legitimize their alternative identities. In this study, I sought to discover how pilgrims constituted their identities in new ways through pilgrimage. I considered three pilgrimages in particular: a Catholic pilgrimage to Rome in search of the history of women’s ordination, through which the pilgrims re-defined the meaning of bread-breaking and “priestliness”; a mother–daughter journey to Crete, through which the women created new gender roles for themselves as manifestations of the Goddess; and a woman’s experience in a temple in Malta, through which she took on the role of an ancient priestess incubating a healing dream.

I analyzed how pilgrims’ performances “make meaning” in three ways. First, I turned to Diana Taylor’s ideas about the archive and the repertoire, and suggested that pilgrims frame their performances as legitimate spiritual practices by situating them within the “orthodoxy” of the archive. However, these pilgrims engage in “performances of challenge” through which they destabilize the archive’s claim to sole interpretive authority. Using the repertoire’s other “ways of knowing,” pilgrims remember or imagine the “past” and connect to their spiritual ancestors. Then, using Judith Butler’s suggestion that performances effectively constitute identity, I claimed that these pilgrims used ritual to constitute identities and knowledge that, although alternative, are not “false,” and which therefore expanded the range of “legitimate” identity performances available to spiritual women. Third, as ritualists such as Tom Driver have suggested, ritual performances are transformative and have the power to effect change. Because they work in a mode of “ritual paradox,” rituals can bring the ideal – the imagined past, pilgrims’ new identities, and the hoped-for future – into the present. As Driver suggested, these ritual performances lead naturally into performances in the “confessional” and “ethical” modes of performance, through which pilgrims claim new identities, challenge patriarchal systems, and work for continued, ongoing transformation of their church and world.