The Sacred Lands Project (SLP) of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program explores the idea of sacred lands disputes as a subset of public conflicts. We expect that mediators need to have an understanding of and sensitivity for the concept of sacred lands, the symbols that attach, the roles of religious leaders as protectors of sacred space and as spiritual as well as political leaders, and the roles and relationships of secular political leaders to religious leaders including how they may or may not politicize protections of and threats against sacred lands. Our hope is to develop a set of teachable practices for mediators working in the context of sacred land conflicts specifically as well as when sacred land disputes are embedded in larger conflicts.
SLP will explore theoretical questions of the sacredness of land and the intersection of religion and politics as well as practical questions concerning the mediation of conflicts over sacred lands. SLP will initiate discussions among academics and practitioners to explore the uniqueness of sacred land disputes, to generate ideas about constructing particular approaches for addressing these conflicts, and to develop strategies and tactics for mediating conflicts over sacred land. Many mediators work on disputes related to sacred spaces but have not considered the unique aspects of such conflicts. We expect that mediators who have worked in Indian Country and in the Middle East and other international settings will appreciate the opportunity to think specifically about and develop strategies for this component of conflicts.