On sacred natural sites

On sacred natural sites

Jaime Tatay Nieto SJ and Amparo Merino de Diego

Sacred natural sites (SNS) are valuable biocultural hotspots and important areas for nature conservation, attracting growing attention in academic, management, and political fora. The relevance and implications of the sacred nature of these sites for the multiple actors involved in their management are widely acknowledged.

However, the complexities and ambiguities surrounding the notion of “the sacred” are not researched in depth. Because few previous scholarly works have specifically examined the topic and its implications for conservation and for the communities living in these sites, this study aims to contribute to this research gap by unraveling the concepts and assumptions of the “sacred” in academic, peer -reviewed SNS publications.

In undertaking the review of literature of these SNS publications from a conservation lens, our findings indicate the following perspectives which we recommend for consideration in the management of SNS and in policymaking:

1. Conservationists and protected area managers paid more attention to SNS than social scientists and religious studies scholars.

2. The sacredness motif tends to be predominantly associated with taboos, bans, and regulations of community-managed resources.

3. The sacred is a highly complex concept often used in a binary, dichotomous way, as opposed to the profane and wild related.

4. An instrumental view of the sacred can limit the potential to include other intangible values in management and exclude relevant stakeholders. 5. The insights from cultural anthropology, political ecology, and religious studies unveil the power dynamics and hidden assumptions that often go unnoticed in the literature.

The experience of SNS shows that conservation strategies go well beyond incorporating prohibitions and establishing boundaries and researchers might also explore ways in which indigenous rights holders, as well as visitors and other stakeholders, can actively participate and inhabit the territory considering their religious backgrounds and cultural values.

This article is an excerpt from What is sacred in sacred natural sites? A literature review from a conservation lens, published in Ecology and Society, Volume 28, Issue 1, Article 12.

Jaime Tatay Nieto SJ and Amparo Merino de Diego are both professors at Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain. Jaime teaches courses on sustainability, ethics, and theology while Amparo teaches undergraduate and graduate courses related to strategic management, social entrepreneurship, and business and sustainability.


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