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Shepherds, Rituals, and the Sacred

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A Biocultural View of the Non-Modern Ontologies of Folk Shrines and Devotions in Central Italy

image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

An association between the sacred and places or natural features is known in virtually every part of the world. Some tangible implications of this link, however, have been brought to the forefront only in recent years. Ecological and anthropological studies are demonstrating that not only are sacred places frequently found near major landmarks; these revered patches of land—commonly named “sacred natural sites”—also tend to shelter significant biological and cultural diversity. Therefore, these areas represent crucial conservation hotspots. Here, I use findings from my research in Central Italy to discuss the concept of “sacred natural site” from the perspective of emerging theories of biocultural diversity. In particular, I suggest that a biocultural view of these sites defies typical dichotomizations of Western modernity. The manifestation of the sacred in the world can thus be seen as a foundational moment that embraces and supersedes both of the opposite poles of nature and culture, and is cyclically reenacted through ritual. I conclude that ritual and processual interplays between humans and non-humans are crucial for sustaining the resilience of these sites.

Affiliations: 1: University of Florida University of Zurich


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