The Pilgrimage of a Burner: Motivations behind the Global trek to the Nevada Wasteland

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Thompson, Olivia
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Middle Tennessee State University
While Burners themselves do not label the Burning Man site as a religious pilgrimage, I argue Burners have many motivations to traverse this desolate location in the Nevada desert from a religious and anthropological studies perspective. By conducting research on this unique, sacred journey, I examine their main motivations to travel across the U.S. and the globe to this site. Do they travel for religious or spiritual purposes, individual interpretation or communal dependence/unity, admiration for intricate art sculptures and creativity, or has Burning Man become an outlet for the ultimate partier? I decipher the complexities that constitute the Burning Man experience and foster understanding for why Burners migrate to this dusty wasteland. I examine three prominent religious studies’ theorists, focused on pilgrimage, and compare their theories to three recent pilgrimage scholars who studied Burning Man as a pilgrimage site. In concluding my argument, I apply the anthropological method of ethnography by using my cousins personal account of working and journeying to Burning Man to support my thesis. My audience is primarily those interested in pilgrimage studies, anthropology, and sociology, but is not limited to these fields. By examining Burning Man, I contribute to the field of religious-pilgrimage studies and social sciences by stating that pilgrimage can exist by functioning and manifesting outside the constraints of organized religious movements, expanding the view of religious pilgrimages. Pilgrimage studies are applicable outside major religious pilgrimage sites for structured belief systems. I seek to understand from an anthropological view why Burners, a distinct and diverse group, journey to this site and create a temporary city only to destroy it and return to that locale yearly. My research is a more holistic interpretation of the Burning Man pilgrimage site, proving that social scientists can study through multiple lenses.
The Pilgrimage of a Burner: Motivations behind the Global trek to the Nevada Wasteland