Table of Contents
The Sacred and Interconnectedness
Forms of the Sacred
Management of the Sacred
The notion of sacred traditionally refers to a particular quality attributed to objects, sites or more abstract entities in a given society. In the domain of cultural heritage, this quality usually results from the religious and spiritual dimension of the objects themselves. From objects of worship, or sacred art, to objects which are protected because of their extreme rarity, the sphere of the sacred was, for museums and institutions of heritage, until recently, fairly precisely circumscribed. The functions of these institutions, vis a visthe notion of sacred, consisted for a long time, of managing the processes of designating as sacred or profane, objects which entered into their field of research, transforming religious objects into objects of knowledge and endowing the rarest and the most precious of these, with a quasi religious quality.
But are these functions still the same today and what does "being sacred" mean in an interconnected world?
New objects of heritage have, over the last ten years, been added to the traditional categories used within cultural institutions: cultural landscapes, oral and intangible heritage, sacred sites and industrial heritage are some of these. Furthermore, the concept of cultural diversity has gone beyond the field of anthropology and research and become an active component of policy making; a component which has become standardized with the adoption, in November 2001, by the General Conference of UNESCO, of a Declaration specifically dedicated to its protection and its promotion. We thought it would be interesting to discover whether the changes which had occurred in our understanding of culture and heritage had modified our relationship with the sacred in cultural heritage, and how we could use the notion of "sacred" in order to envisage new models for the protection and safeguarding of national heritage.
In order to respond to these questions, we have sought to enlarge the traditional comprehension of the notion of sacred as it is applied to objects of heritage, by demonstrating the realities described by the term and clarifying the meanings of the uses of the term. Several contributions, including those of Jesus Peralta, Anne-Gael Bilhaut and Michel Côté, show how the term can be used in the process of negotiation and the acknowledgement of identities and knowledge on the scientific and political level. Other contributions, those of Aliza Cohen-Mushlin and Richard Baker, demonstrate the material conditions of the identification, study and preservation that this designation implies.
We have also sought, by drawing a comparison with environmental studies on natural heritage and biodiversity, to understand the possible functional role of the notion of sacred in the study and protection of cultural diversity. Because the introduction of the notion of cultural diversity in the protection and the preservation of cultural heritage is not without consequences; and this even more so, considering that the diversity in this field cannot be summarized by the identification of categories of heritage (which are constantly evolving on the level of identification and interpretation, as the contribution of Oleg Grabar shows) and ensuring their representation within national and international organizations.
We know that natural sacred sites play an essential role in maintaining biodiversity. However, and even though we acknowledge the close relationship between biological and cultural diversity, or cultural and natural heritage, the notion of sacred cultural site has not yet led to advanced studies on the role of the sacred in the preservation of the cultural diversity of heritage. The study of the relationship between the sacred and biodiversity teaches us, however, that social interactions are essential in the identification of the sacred and the preservation of sacred places because they allow the ritualisation of socio-cultural customs and the safeguarding of value systems.
This last point, if it is more or less accepted theoretically, remains nonetheless difficult to implement practically when it comes to cultural heritage, which separates itself naturally from social custom to become an object of heritage. It must therefore be rethought of in light of new social customs in order to ensure its preservation. Several contributions underline both the difficulties of safeguarding social interactions because of the nature of the objects themselves, as shown by Salam Diakite’s paper on sacred languages, or because of attitudes which have become standardized through scientific approaches, as the contribution of Jean-Hubert Martin demonstrates. On the contrary, as expressed by Azedine Beschaouch, it appears that some permanent uses of sacred sites are not sufficiently recognized as functional for the preservation of cultural diversity, despite the historical knowledge that we have to this effect.
These observations, as well as the general organization of this issue, were determined by the participation of environmental science specialists in order to complete, and at the same time broaden, our contemplation of the notion of sacred. The contributions of P. S. Ramakrishnan and David Harmon, as well as the references that they provide, will allow readers to pursue an exploration that is outlined here.
Enriched by the lessons provided by environmental studies, we would like to return, by way of conclusion, to the consequences of introducing the notion of cultural diversity to the models of heritage protection on an international level. Borrowing models which emerge from the study of the sacred on biodiversity should allow the initiation of programs for the preservation of cultural heritage beginning with the concept of cultural diversity, by encouraging the reorganization of the priorities and the methods of preservation according to criteria other than those established by the History of art and History. It also allows introducing the notion of cultural integrity, as David Harmon reminds us, and shifting the attention given to the tangibility of heritage towards the safeguarding of social mechanisms that ensure its perpetuation. The new categories of heritage, promoted to the international level through the work of UNESCO in the preparation of a Convention on intangible national heritage, indicate that this shift is taking place. The notion of sacred in heritage should, within this framework, find the most significant field of its functional role in maintaining and enriching cultural diversity.
The advice and the help of several specialists has allowed us to successfully complete this issue of MUSEUM International. We would like to specially thank Bernice Murphy, Vice-President of ICOM and Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney (Australia), who has been of great assistance from the beginning of the preparation of this issue, and who, through her knowledge of the subject, has allowed us to avoid numerous pitfalls throughout its production. Top
The Sacred Ganga River-based Cultural Landscape P.S. Ramakrishnan
In the context of a variety of uncertainties caused by "global change" as an ecological phenomenon and "globalization" as an economic one, there has been a renewed interest in looking at cultural landscapes with their multiplicity of dimensions, ecological, economic, social, cultural and spiritual. The existing separation between natural and cultural landscapes is being challenged, leading to the recognition of cultures as a product of social practices that take place in historically contingent and geographically specific contexts. It is in this context that the following discussion on the "Ganga river-based landscape system, as a sacred landscape" becomes significant. Among the interconnected ecosystems along the entire course of the river, the article will focus on the Garhwal mountain landscape system, which is interesting in the sense that it is highly heterogeneous and much more complex than the rest, for reasons that are ecological, social and cultural. Known as the "Dev Bhumi" (the land of the gods), the Garhwal landscape is a storehouse of myths, legends, and places of pilgrimage for spiritual fulfillment. With a rich tapestry of cultural heritage, acting as a melting pot where people from all over the sub-continent come together to seek spirituality, this cultural landscape has maintained its own identity and yet is continually evolving and adapting, in both space and time. Top
Local to Global Dimension of the Sacred Jesus T. Peralta
The exposure of indigenous cultures to external pressures, which may have beneficial effects, can also have negative repercussions. Among the indigenous peoples of the Philippines, the single most effective event that induced global change in traditional cultures was the introduction of the great religions of the West and East. Only those practices not linked with local religions survive only to be beset by other alien factors of change. The Ifugao people of the northern Cordilleras of the island of Luzon, Philippines are a graphic example of the vulnerability of a traditional society to the pressures of global intrusions. More apropos to the issue at hand is the introduction of Christianity among the Ifugao and the catastrophic effect it had on indigenous religious beliefs and practices. The article also focuses on the aspects of a traditional culture maintained through the medium of institutional concern with ethnic diversity. Top
The Zápara Indians: the Consecration of an Endangered People Anne-Gaël Bilhaut
Two years ago, UNESCO declared the oral heritage and cultural manifestations of the Zápara people of Amazonia a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity". The Zápara thus gained worldwide recognition while remaining completely unrecognized, and even unknown, in their own countries, Peru and Ecuador. Although international public opinion is now showing interest in their fate as a result of the UNESCO distinction, these people, who are threatened with extinction, should be urgently provided with the means of preserving their language and culture which are being increasingly supplanted by the neighbouring Quechua culture. Given sacred status, as it were, they have become visible and more active than ever in their fight to recover their ancestral lands, language and practice of shamanism, the three aspects which they proclaim as being essential to their reassertion of their identity. Notions of the sacred will be discussed, including how the Zápara have been consecrated by the "outside world" and how they themselves consider their environment and certain aspects of their culture as sacred. The paper reflects upon the construction of history, its representations and use in the process of the ethnic revival of the Zápara. Top
From Masterpieces to Artefact: the Sacred and the Profane in Museums Michel Côté
Museums are, of course, diverse (and it is fortunate that this is so…) Museums of art, history, science, technology; regional, university, national museums... the variety reflects a wide range of cultural projects and scientific intentions. However, each museum has to decide on the nature of its collection, the choice of objects, their significance and the policies that determine its development. When we speak of museums, the notion of masterpiece and sacred is never far away. Why one particular object and not another? Why preservation in a museum? By exhibiting an object, even in a small-scale setting, are we not diverting it from its original purpose? Does a museum render its collection too sacred? Or, on the contrary, does it not alter the sacred meaning of an object by reducing it to an object for contemplation? And what if the fundamental role of museums is to raise questions? Top
The World’s Altars and the Contemporary Art Museum Jean-Hubert Martin
Sacred themes are making an unexpected return to the museum, and doing so in ways that raise numerous questions that run counter to a great many prevailing ideas. Intellectuals usually evolve within a rational framework that excludes the experience of religious faith. Can the museum, which is the sanctuary of lay and republican values, be transformed into a religious sanctuary in the name of human rights? The museum and its systematic approach demonstrate a desire to acquire objects and knowledge that has ensured it its influence. It would be illusory to foresee its demise. Nonetheless, its opening to the practices of religion, and not only its vestiges, can provide it with a novel future as a place for promoting and disseminating minority values. Consequently, a museum of the performing arts, in which the works would be displayed live through the activities of the officiating priests of the different religions, still has to be created. Such an institution can be envisaged on condition that museum evolution is accompanied by a new history of the arts that is relativist and less static and that stops using European art, its evolution and modernity, as the sole criteria of reference. Top
From the Icon to the Aniconism: Islam and the Image Oleg Grabar
The icon is a creative expression of Christian beliefs and practices, in fact primarily Orthodox and Eastern Christian, with occasional extensions in Western Christianity and other religions as well. This kind of expression had been rejected by Islam, as it was impossible in Judaism. The rejection and the impossibility derive from a doctrine which rejects and condemns all representations and from a liturgical, social, and individual practice of the faith which does not accept any substitute to the divine. Reality, of course, is not as near nor as absolute. The article overcomes this simplistic polarization and opens the door to plurality and reflection through the study of various artistic representations of the Muslim world. Top
The Safeguarding and Transmission of Sacred Languages in Africa: issues and outlooks Salam Diakite
Linguistics has suffered from the limited methods for the identification and analysis of African languages which have often resulted in an over-simplified classification of the diverse language forms from the same locality, to the extent that all that does not conform to pre-established rules is often considered "against nature". This is further complicated in an era where globalization, standardization and conformism seem to want us all to look in a single direction and these sacred language forms have remained, for a long period, unintelligible and inaccessible for linguists. Generally speaking, the language forms concerned are used within contexts that are apparently unstructured and difficult to classify for the uninitiated and require specific verbal behaviour which is essential in meeting the demands of a given community. While it is generally accepted that a language by definition belongs to all of its speakers, when it comes to sacred languages, they are perceived as being exclusively owned by a handful of initiates, no one else being entitled to use them. Their identification and scientific description, for the moment, poses serious problems to linguists, because, as emphasized above, they are diverse and numerous and generally vary from one ritual ceremony to another. By devoting attention to the problem of the protection of sacred languages, UNESCO has expressed yet again its commitment and concern to encourage continuing reflection on that which concerns the intangible cultural heritage and humanity. Top
Biodiversity and the Sacred: Some Insights for Preserving Cultural Diversity and Heritage David Harmon
If the notion of sacredness can be considered as an acknowledgment of mystery, then there is no question that biological diversity – the variety of genes, species, and ecosystems on Earth – offers plenty of scope to be considered sacred. It is replete with enigmas: nobody knows all the details of how ecosystems function, or how genes work, or even how many species there are. The emerging dialogue on biodiversity and the sacred offers some valuable insights for museum and heritage practitioners whose work traditionally has focused on the more "conventional" forms of sacred expression, i.e. objects, buildings, and sites that are consciously designed with religious or spiritual intent. This paper will touch upon a few of the points of congruence between biodiversity and cultural heritage as linked by the idea of the sacred. Top
Archaeological Memory and Popular Piety Azedine Beschaouch
Inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List at Tunisia’s request – one can find, in a bower of greenery, among laurels, eucalyptus and Alepo pine trees, a modern spa resort named after the hill which overlooks the landscape from an altitude of 400 m: Djebel el-Oust. This spa resort in Tunisia is an extraordinary example of the continuity of the notion of the sacred throughout thousands of years, going beyond cultural changes and religious conflicts. As regards the preservation of life and conservation of health, providence adapts its name to all times and places. In fact, in the memory of human beings, the strength of the sacred prevails over the narrowness of the religious spectrum. Top
Journeys through an Australian Sacred Landscape Cathy Robinson, Richard Baker and Lynette Liddle
This article begins by describing two contrasting journeys through a central Australian landscape. One is undertaken by senior Anangu women and their families as part of their responsibilities to care for their country. The other is a pilgrimage taken by large numbers of tourists in the same landscape but on a very different journey – to climb a rock that is internationally promoted as an Australian outback icon. We present these contrasting journeys to highlight key tensions in the joint management of Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park. These tensions emanate from the issue that climbing Uluru is offensive to Anangu sacred law as the site is spiritually important. Anangu are also distressed by people undertaking the dangerous climb as their law (Tjukurpa) requires them to look after all visitors on their land. They feel a sense of responsibility when people get injured or die on the climb. On the other hand, many tourists, ignoring Anangu views, learn very little about the sacred nature of the Uluru and project their own meanings on this landscape. Top
Before Vanishing Forever: The Rescue Operations of the Centre for Jewish Art Aliza Cohen-Mushlin
Sacred buildings and ritual objects in post-conflict areas are highest on the agenda of places which are in need of documentation. If not damaged by war, Jewish sites are often being desecrated. At the core of the Centre for Jewish Art (CJA) work is the belief in virtual preservation of material culture. In times of limited resources, the physical preservation of every building and object is not possible. By creating a visual and informational record in our database, we can most effectively memorialize and embrace through knowledge that which cannot physically be preserved. Moreover, we are strong advocates of carrying out proper documentation even if a site is to be preserved physically. If culture is the collective memory of a nation, then this Index of Jewish art will help contain it and render it accessible for the coming generations. The Centre is proud to have set some of this into motion and to be a part of the growing consciousness amongst other minority cultures of the urgent need to preserve the unique artistic legacies of the world. Top