Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Deborah Whitehead


Thru-hiking is a phenomenon in which one walks long distances—sometimes 2,000 miles or longer—on journeys often spanning continents and lasting many months at a time. In this work, I ask whether thru-hiking can be considered a form of pilgrimage and what implications doing so might have in the study of religion and nature.

Using three popular hiking memoirs, I argue that thru-hiking is a form of pilgrimage because it emphasizes themes of transformation, community, and space. In doing so, I also find evidence for religious practice spanning beyond organized religion, pointing towards more diffuse and individualized forms of spirituality common to the United States. Secondly, I situate contemporary thru-hiking novels within a larger tradition of American nature writing, tracing distinct values around nature, the self, and society. Finally, I demonstrate the ways in which new media and technology influence the experience of long-distance walking.

As an activity that permeates popular media, thru-hiking not only serves as an important example of how values are reflected to society at large, but also of how depictions shape the values of those who consume it. This investigation seeks to bring this forward, in addition to analyzing the religious dimension of thru-hiking.

Included in

Religion Commons