Circumnavigations of Charity

The Eighteenth Century, Pilgrimage, and Philanthropic Celebrity

  • Adrian D. Wesolowski
Keywords: philanthropy, celebrity, pilgrimage, comparison


At the turn of Europe’s nineteenth century entered a period of dynamic social change. The clash of former and new ideas, interpretations, and alternatives disturbed the transfer of role models. A cultural formation stood between the secular and the sacred, the modern and the ancient régime: the philanthropic celebrity involved new, market-based mechanisms of fame, and the vague allusion to the model of a saint. The article uses the theme of pilgrimage as a tool to explore the intersection between these contradictions encompassed by philanthropic celebrity. Three examples from this perspective are John Howard (England), Jean-Frédéric Oberlin (France), and Stanisław Staszic (Poland), revealing different, but parallel conflation of old and new registers and meanings. In the result, the pilgrimage is effectively used as a methodological tool allowing entangled relations between the secular and the sacred be explored.