Mediating conflicts over sacred lands

Date01 May 2018
Published date01 May 2018
Mediating conflicts over sacred lands
Susan L. Podziba
Podziba Policy Mediation, Brookline,
Sacred Lands Project of the MIT-Harvard Public
Disputes Program, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Susan L. Podziba,Podziba Policy Mediation,
21 Orchard Road, Brookline, MA 02445.
Mediating conflicts over sacred lands, a unique subset of
public conflicts and international conflict with a religion
component, requires sensitivity to the concept of the
sacred and the unique contexts within which they occur.
Sacred lands disputes may emerge from competing
incompatible commercial and religious uses, demands for
exclusive use, and efforts to undermine religious legiti-
macy. These aspects of conflicts over sacred lands require
mediator consideration of their peculiar dynamics, includ-
ing clashes of worldviews, indivisibility, and territorial
access to the divine.
Mediating conflicts over sacred lands requires sensitivity to the concept of sacred, the means for
how land becomes a vessel for the sacred, and the varied sources of sacredness. In addition, sacred
land disputes occur within unique contexts that overlay usual public disputes. These aspects of con-
flicts over sacred lands present unique challenges for mediators and require mediator consideration
of their peculiar dynamics.
Attention to the religious dimension of conflict has increased over the past decade. According to
the Religion and Armed Conflict (RELAC) data, the number of total violent conflicts with a religion
component began increasing in 1979 and showed a rapid increase starting in 2010 (Svensson &
Nilsson, 2017).
Conflicts that include a religious dimension have been analyzed through the lenses of civi-
lization clashes (Huntington, 1993), identity conflicts (Seul, 1999), and worldview conflicts
(Hassner, 2009).
Given the seeming intractability and unique aspects of conflicts with religious dimensions, con-
flict resolution professionals have begun to look beyond traditional negotiation and mediation for
This article expands on ideas and concepts introduced by the author and Lucy Moore at the 2015 conference of Environment
and Public Policy Section of the Association for Conflict Resolution. Much appreciation goes to Lucy Moore, author of Com-
mon Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories from an Environmental Mediator, who generously shared her profound insights and
experience for this article, and to Professor Lawrence Susskind for his support in establishing and sustaining the Sacred Lands
Project of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program.
Received: 9 June 2017 Revised: 5 February 2018 Accepted: 7 February 2018
DOI: 10.1002/crq.21217
© 2018 Association for Conflict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2018;35:383391. 383

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