Wandering Spirits: Youth Travel and Spiritual Seeking, 1964-1980 Open Access

Brazil, Benjamin David (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/2j62s499h?locale=en


Between 1964 and 1980, a boom in youth travel intertwined with the rise of what is commonly called seeker spirituality. This fusion occurred within a wider web of meaning and dissent, which I refer to as popular existentialism. Opposing a free, authentic, and expressive self to the external, alienating constraints of modern social structures, popular existentialism condemned not only institutional religion, but also phony relationships, meaningless work, consumer conformism, and conventional character ideals. Hip travel, in turn, embodied an alternative. Imagined as a liberating moral practice, it merged existential freedom and physical mobility, spiritual journeys and bodily movement. After examining competing meanings of travel in U.S. history, this dissertation describes a youth travel boom closely linked to the hippie counterculture. It then presents three case studies. The first focuses on the practice of hitchhiking, imagined as a route to transformed selfhood and authentic community. The second studies live-in hippie buses and "housetrucks," interpreting them as instances of a material spirituality. The last looks at a series of guidebooks that framed travel as a New Age practice, as well as letters to the books' author. In sum, I find that popular existentialism guided the imagined meanings of travel. More importantly, however, travel focused the blurry ideals of popular existentialism into a sharp and particular image of freedom, one that valued self-reliance, self-expression, openness, and authenticity. Formed according to this vision of freedom and its hip virtue ethic, "mobile selves" fit well with evolving, capitalist social structures. At the same time, their spiritual paths traversed both religious and secular spaces, erasing the artificial borders between them.

Table of Contents

Introduction ....... 1

Chapter One: Itineraries of the Moral Imagination ..... 35

Chapter Two: Unsettled Times: The Youth Travel Boom .... 66

Chapter Three: Hitchhiking as Spiritual Practice ..... 93

Chapter Four: Vehicles of Enlightenment ..... 119

Chapter Five: Dear Mr. Vagabond: A Guidebook Writer and His Readers ..... 147

Conclusion ..... 179

Notes ..... 199

Bibliography ..... 254

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