Sacred Lands Project

Susan Podziba, Director of the Sacred Lands Project

The Sacred Lands Project (SLP) of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program explores the idea of sacred lands disputes as a subset of public conflicts. We expect that mediators need an understanding of and sensitivity for the concept of sacred lands and the symbols that attach to them. Our hope is to develop a set of teachable practices for mediators working in the context of sacred land conflicts specifically, as well as when sacred land disputes are embedded in larger conflicts.

SLP will explore theoretical questions of the sacredness of land and the intersection of religion and politics as well as practical questions concerning the mediation of conflicts over sacred places. We will analyze the roles of religious leaders as protectors of sacred places from their positions as spiritual and political leaders, and the roles and relationships of secular political leaders to religious leaders, including how they coordinate on the need to protect and/or respond to threats against sacred lands. In addition, we will reflect on differences between traditional interpretations and adherent beliefs related to protecting of sacred lands. To do so, SLP will initiate discussions among academics, practitioners, and disputants to explore the uniqueness of sacred land conflicts and to generate ideas for constructing approaches and strategies for mediating these conflicts. We expect that mediators working in the realm of conflicts over sacred places in both domestic and international settings will appreciate the opportunity to think specifically about and develop strategies for this challenging and unique component of public conflicts.

A Qualitative Database of Conflicts over Sacred Lands

SLP will develop a qualitative database of conflicts over sacred lands to benefit researchers, mediators, interested parties, stakeholders, and disputants. We are currently developing parameters for the database and expect it to include categories such as location, source of sacredness, form of, meaning to adherents and others, method of establishment and continuation of place as sacred, contesting parties, causes of conflict, processes used to manage and resolve conflict, and agreements reached. In addition to a researched component of each case, an edited space will be made available for interested parties and disputants to provide perspectives and comments on the conflict and the prepared case study.