War on Sacred Grounds

War on Sacred Grounds

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    War on Sacred Grounds
    Book Description:

    Sacred sites offer believers the possibility of communing with the divine and achieving deeper insight into their faith. Yet their spiritual and cultural importance can lead to competition as religious groups seek to exclude rivals from practicing potentially sacrilegious rituals in the hallowed space and wish to assert their own claims. Holy places thus create the potential for military, theological, or political clashes, not only between competing religious groups but also between religious groups and secular actors.

    In War on Sacred Grounds, Ron E. Hassner investigates the causes and properties of conflicts over sites that are both venerated and contested; he also proposes potential means for managing these disputes. Hassner illustrates a complex and poorly understood political dilemma with accounts of the failures to reach settlement at Temple Mount/Haram el-Sharif, leading to the clashes of 2000, and the competing claims of Hindus and Muslims at Ayodhya, which resulted in the destruction of the mosque there in 1992. He also addresses more successful compromises in Jerusalem in 1967 and Mecca in 1979. Sacred sites, he contends, are particularly prone to conflict because they provide valuable resources for both religious and political actors yet cannot be divided.

    The management of conflicts over sacred sites requires cooperation, Hassner suggests, between political leaders interested in promoting conflict resolution and religious leaders who can shape the meaning and value that sacred places hold for believers. Because a reconfiguration of sacred space requires a confluence of political will, religious authority, and a window of opportunity, it is relatively rare. Drawing on the study of religion and the study of politics in equal measure, Hassner's account offers insight into the often-violent dynamics that come into play at the places where religion and politics collide.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6041-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue: “A Terrifying and Fascinating Mystery”
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Walk with me through the dark alleys of old Jerusalem to the sacred site in the heart of the city. Leaving modern Jerusalem behind, we pass under an ornate Ottoman gate and enter the city within the walls. A small plaza, just by the gate, bustles with residents, tourists, merchants, and cab drivers. There are cafes here, a small museum, a youth hostel. Modern city life can penetrate this far beyond the gates but no farther. At the other end of the plaza, a small passageway, barely wide enough to accommodate two walking side by side, begins its descent into...

  5. Chapter One On Sacred Grounds
    (pp. 1-14)

    Sacred places are sites of infinite beauty. Be they the medieval cathedrals of Europe, the great mosques of the Middle East, or the splendid temples of Asia, the structures that crown sacred places count among the greatest achievements of the civilizations that produced them, extraordinary in their artistry, architecture, and sheer investment of human effort. They are sites of supreme serenity and majesty, overwhelming the visitor in their scale, detail, and wealth.

    At the same time, many sacred places have a history of extreme violence and bloodshed. Conflicts over sacred space have triggered ethnic and international conflict and have appeared...

  6. Part One: Understanding Conflicts over Sacred Spaces

    • Chapter Two What Is Sacred Space?
      (pp. 17-36)

      Small roadside chapels are sacred, yet so are cathedrals. Synagogues are sacred, yet so is the city of Jerusalem. Shintoists worship the spirits residing in rocks and trees but also worship Mount Fuji. How can we make sense of this variety in sacred places? In this chapter, I seek to introduce a semblance of order into the subject matter by circumscribing and classifying sacred space.¹

      Emile Durkheim, among the first sociologists to study religion, argued that the distinction between the sacred and the profane is the basis of all religious movements.² All religious beliefs, rites, and places express either the...

    • Chapter Three The Indivisibility Problem
      (pp. 37-52)

      Sacred spaces are replete with paradoxes. Religious movements embrace the unity and sanctity of all creation but also recognize that some sites are more sacred than others. Believers regard the divine as omnipresent but consider its presence at these sites to be somehow more intense. Earth-bound and confined in material dimensions, these sacred sites are nevertheless capable of revealing the sacred order of the entire universe to the believer, capturing both micro- and macrocosmos at the same time. Pilgrims will endure great travails to reach these places, only to learn that their pilgrimage was an inward journey to a place...

    • Chapter Four Conflict over Sacred Places
      (pp. 53-68)

      Five widespread historical trends convert the potential difficulty posed by the indivisibility of sacred space into concrete rivalry over such space, either among religious groups or between religious and secular forces. Disputes stem from the splitting of religions into rival factions; the fusion of opposed beliefs through syncretism; competition over sacred space as real estate; the use of sacred space as force multiplier; or the vulnerability of sacred space as a social symbol. The resulting disputes need not be indivisible in the sense of concerning sovereign right to a shrine. They may involve access to the site, maintenance of its...

    • Chapter Five Mismanaging Conflicts over Sacred Places
      (pp. 69-88)

      A combination of spiritual, political, and historical factors creates conditions for indivisible conflict over sacred space. Owing to religious requirements, examined in chapters 2 and 3, sacred places are irreplaceable and cohesive sites with inflexible and highly visible boundaries. The benefits that accrue from controlling sacred sites create competition between disparate religious communities or between religious and secular actors. Because disputes about sacred space involve religious ideals, divine presence, and absolute and transcendent values, there is no room for compromise and no substitute for the disputed space.

      Absent any one of these components, conflict over sacred space would be as...

  7. Part Two: Managing Conflicts over Sacred Spaces

    • Chapter Six The Foundations and Limits of Religious Authority
      (pp. 91-112)

      The papal bull “Antiquorum Fida Relatio,” issued by Pope Boniface VIII in the year 1300, turned on its head the relative positions held by Rome and Jerusalem since the fourth century as Christian pilgrimage destinations. Prior to the bull, a plenary indulgence, the formal remission of punishment for sins already forgiven, required a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.¹ Such a pilgrimage, with all the risks it entailed, was considered a supreme act of devotion by the Church. Boniface’s declaration of 1300 was revolutionary in establishing a cyclical jubilee year, to recur once a century, during which plenary indulgences could be...

    • Chapter Seven Successful Conflict Management: Jerusalem, 1967
      (pp. 113-134)

      The Temple Mount is a trapezoid plateau, thirty-five acres in area, occupying the southeastern quadrant of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is called Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) by Jews and Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) by Muslims. For members of both religious movements it is a sacred space of the utmost centrality and vulnerability, located at the epicenter of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ehud Sprinzak, an Israeli political scientist who specialized in radical Jewish movements, referred to the Temple Mount as “the most volatile spot in the Middle East, perhaps on the planet.”¹ The New York Times has referred...

    • Chapter Eight Successful Conflict Management: Mecca, 1979
      (pp. 135-152)

      In November 1979, the Saudi government was forced to confront an impossible dilemma. Insurgents had taken thousands of hostages inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam. The hostile takeover of this inviolable shrine was designed as a blow to the prestige of the House of Saud, custodian of the Holy Mosque, which based its legitimacy on political and religious control over this site. Yet the Saudi regime could find no effective means of dealing with the insurgents because the use of force in the mosque was prohibited by Muslim law. Seventy-two hours later the crisis was...

    • Chapter Nine Lessons from Conflicts over Sacred Places
      (pp. 153-180)

      This volume offered an investigation into the causes, properties, and potential means of managing conflicts over sacred sites. Sacred sites are prone to conflict because they provide valuable resources for both religious and political actors. To believers, sacred sites offer the possibility of communicating with the gods, receiving divine favors, and achieving insight into the deeper meanings of their faith. These characteristics lead to competition between religious groups who wish to control a sacred space both in order to exclude rivals from practicing potentially conflicting rituals in the sacred space and in order to assert the legitimacy of their particular...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 181-182)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 183-216)
  10. Index
    (pp. 217-222)