Why shared sacred sites?

Logo - longShared sacred sites are hubs of negotiating coexistence and toleration. In societies with possibilities of inter-religious conflict, what makes coexistence possible in such sites, when relations outside are fraught? Within these contexts, investigating the choreographies of sharing in these places can reveal the parameters of inter-communal and intra-communal relationships, especially ones that are typically portrayed as conflictual. In a world with intersecting religious identities, these sites are equally important for practitioners of faith in different corners of the world. They demonstrate that conflict between religious communities in any given society is situationally constructed by various political and social factors rather than universal theological principles.

These religious spaces are mediated between different (and often conflicting) religious, ethnic, and spiritual groups. From the Balkans to South Asia, these sites operate as loci of coexistence and represent the possibilities of inter-religious presence. They take on different forms and attributes globally and historically and range from churches, mosques, and temples to shrines, caves, and mountaintops. Similarly, the parameters of what is shared, and when and how it is shared, vary from site to site.

As sites of religious pluralism, they are often prime examples of tolerance and accommodation between religious groups. They show that in certain cases, sharing can work against mainstream narratives of violence, religious extremism, and the inevitability of conflict between religions and civilizations. In the Mediterranean in particular, shared sacred spaces represent unique sites of sharing and coexistence between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Looking at these places allows researchers to demonstrate the ways in which divine spaces can transcend politically constructed “boundaries” or “divisions.”

We look to envision ways in which public authorities and constructed social norms can facilitate practices of sharing, since agents can often be inclined to reinforce religious pluralism and see it as beneficial to society. Ideally, in such situations, the larger normative and political environment can match the goals of the shared shrine. Unfortunately, a state or normative environment can also be the cause of conflict between religions and promote inter-ethnic and religious strife, even while the shared space might be peaceful and respectful. As such, studying sacred sites helps us understand the positioning of the space in a larger culture or political framework.

To understand these sites of coexistence and toleration, we must ask questions like: What makes sharing possible? Who is likely to share a religious site? Can we understand joint participation as the product of a particular flexibility of a religious leader, or are there practices and rituals that facilitate the acceptance of another into one’s religious sanctuary? By studying sites that emerge from or fall into conflict we can understand how inter-religious relations can deteriorate, and pinpoint the factors that are important in developing practices of sharing. To approach these questions, our project prioritizes ethnographic and spatial analyses of the sites in question.

Our website seeks to bring together scholars and curious individuals to discuss the myriad possibilities that emerge from this particular field of study. We seek to promote inquiry and make knowledge of these sites accessible through multimedia platforms: scholarly essays, newspaper articles, photographs, audio, and videos. For scholars and students engaged in the academic study of these sites, we provide a network of interaction and collaboration, deepening engagement across regional and disciplinary boundaries. This scholarly material is a new and valuable resource for everyone interested in these sites. In times when we are surrounded by narratives of immutable religious strife, we hope this website will demonstrate the possibilities of peaceful coexistence, tolerance, and understanding.

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