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Spiritual Tourism as a Trend in The Globalized World:

Escaping the World in Ubud

Meta Ose Margaretha Ginting


Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies, UGM.

In the contemporary world, people use the word “spirituality” to describe a wide variety
of beliefs and practices. People use it in a way that it assumes everyone knows the
meaning. The concept of spirituality has a great ability to connect us into a common
understanding, although when we ask people to describe it, there is no absolute
definition of what spirituality is. In this sense, my research investigates how the
expression of spirituality is embodied in the paradigm of travelling. Travelling is not
merely a matter of lifestyle for the modern people, but theoretically can also be
understood as a practice of spirituality. In the secular world, many people identify
travel as an activity connected to spiritual fulfillment. In that sense, the scholarship of
tourism has a focus on travel and tourism as form of modern spirituality connected with
religious life. When tourism intersects with religion, activities like pilgrimage,
perfomance and spectacles can be reassessed as part of modern spiritual life. This
allows us to think about how the concepts of religion and tourism affect one another
and to examine the increasingly blurred boundaries between them. In my research, I
propose thatI in the context of globalization religiosity is a fluid concept that isn't
restricted to one kind of practice or confined within a particular religion.

My research is set in Ubud, is a town-village located in the Gianyar district in Bali. While
Bali is well-known because of the beaches and lively bars, Ubud presents itself as a
center for spiritual tourism and the arts, providing a counter narrative to the image of
Bali as a hedonistic playground for Westerners. People go to Ubud to escape from the
busy life and meditate. In the other parts of Bali, sacred landscapes are defined by the
existence of temples, and sacred natural objects such as trees, mountains, and lakes, and
are cordoned off as "religious" sites both within and outside the tourism industry. Yet in
Ubud the sense of sacredness is embodied in rice-paddies, music, festivals, yoga and
dance. Visitors to Ubud seek experiences that they call spirituality or self-discovery.
Within the last decade, the trend of spiritual tourism in Ubud has increased, where
tourists are not just travelling and visiting places but are also involved in activities that
they deem as spiritual.

The research questions will be focus on:

1. Can tourism become a kind of spiritual practice in the globalized world?

2. How does globalization and spirituality affect the development of hospitality
industry in Ubud?

This study aims to map the interaction between spirituality and tourism happening in
Ubud. By doing so we can see a broader picture of how spirituality and tourism interact
and resulting in another segment or representation both for tourism and spirituality. To
some extent, this research will also revisit the idea of spirituality as a global phenomenon.
Spiritual tourism in Ubud is an open door to see what is exactly happening to spirituality
and the expression of it. It is a tool to revisit the idea of being spiritual in the modern and
secularize world.

In order to map the global discussion of tourism and spirituality, I try to examine the
work of scholars who already talk about spirituality in the context of globalization. It
also means the relation between spirituality and tourism develop through the processes
of globalization. This also will lead us to see the many expressions of spirituality in
tourism industry.

From the academic stand point, spiritual tourism is a cocept where a tourist begin their
journey motivated by some spiritual values or aspect (Lanquar, 2007 and Bywater 1994),
where religious tourism as in pilgrimage refers to something more details on particular
religion, spirituality in the light of tourism could be defined as a broad ideas of mixture
religious values or different spiritual tradition. Therefore, a spiritual tourist can be
identified as a person who come to a place living the usual or daily condition, with the
intention of spiritual growth and development, as the main reason for travelling
(Medhekar & Haq, 2012:214).

In this research, I use many theoretical perspectives from tourism and religious studies
to examine the behaviors of the visitors I observed in Ubud. I take the Bali Spirit Festival
2017 and some other Spiritual Events as a field where I interviewed both the visitors and
organizers. I tried to find the trends and patterns in the relationship and contradictions
between the interactions at the Bali Spirit Festival in general then compared them to the
existing theoretical frameworks by the utilized by scholars of religion and tourism.

I conducted this research and directly visit the field. Gather data and observe by directly
involved in the activity held in BSF 2017. I will try to use in-depth qualitative data, and
seriously try to look and concentrate to adopt a realist, a phenomenologist, or a
constructionist approach to the topic. Through the method, I include content analysis, a
small-scale ethnographic study, small-scale in-depth interview to the visitors and all the
crew in different places that involve during the time in Ubud.

I would like to take Ubud as the example of bigger and wider phenomenon in tourism.
This research would propose the recommendations for this worldview to be applied in
a more realistic and concrete framework that enables its guiding principle to adapt and
absorb the ongoing processes of religion and tourism in Bali. In addition to that, I also
conducted secondary data analysis by examining data that has already been gathered by
the former researcher and analyzing existing documents.