What is sacred in sacred natural sites? A literature review from a conservation lens
Jaime Tatay & Amparo Merino2023
Sacred natural sites (SNS) are valuable biocultural hotspots and important areas for nature conservation. They are
attracting a 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 is widely acknowledged. However, the complexities and ambiguities surrounding the notion of “the sacred” have not been researched in depth. Because few previous scholarly works have specifically examined a topic that has profound implications for conservation as well as for the communities inhabiting these sites, we aim to fill in the gap by unraveling the conceptualizations and assumptions of “the sacred” in academic, peer reviewed SNS publications. Through a systematic review of the literature performed from a conservation lens, our findings unveil that: (1) Conservationists and protected areas managers have paid much 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; and (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. These perspectives should be included in the management of SNS and in policymaking.
Tatay, J., and A. Merino. 2023. What is sacred in sacred natural sites? A literature review from a conservation lens. Ecology and Society 28(1):12. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-13823-280112