Asian Sacred Natural Sites : Philosophy and practice in protected areas and conservation book cover
1st Edition

Asian Sacred Natural Sites
Philosophy and practice in protected areas and conservation

ISBN 9781138936317
Published August 23, 2016 by Routledge
340 Pages 117 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Nature conservation planning tends to be driven by models based on Western norms and science, but these may not represent the cultural, philosophical and religious contexts of much of Asia. This book provides a new perspective on the topic of sacred natural sites and cultural heritage by linking Asian cultures, religions and worldviews with contemporary conservation practices and approaches. 

The chapters focus on the modern significance of sacred natural sites in Asian protected areas with reference, where appropriate, to an Asian philosophy of protected areas. Drawn from over 20 different countries, the book covers examples of sacred natural sites from all of IUCN’s protected area categories and governance types. The authors demonstrate the challenges faced to maintain culture and support spiritual and religious governance and management structures in the face of strong modernisation across Asia. 

The book shows how sacred natural sites contribute to defining new, more sustainable and more equitable forms of protected areas and conservation that reflect the worldviews and beliefs of their respective cultures and religions. The book contributes to a paradigm-shift in conservation and protected areas as it advocates for greater recognition of culture and spirituality through the adoption of biocultural conservation approaches.

Table of Contents



Kunio Iwatsuki


Bas Verschuuren and Naoya Furuta

1. Introduction: Re-awakening the Power of Place: Ancient Philosophy and Practice with Current Relevance for Protected Areas and Conservation in Asia

Bas Verschuuren

Section 1: Themes and Perspectives on the Conservation of Asian Sacred Natural Sites

2. The Asian Philosophy of Protected Areas

Amran Hamzah

3. Sacred Mountains in Asia: Themes and Implications for Protected Areas

Edwin Bernbaum

4. Can World Heritage Status Help Protect Sacred Sites in Asia?

Alison Ormsby, Wendy Jackson and Shonil Bhagwat

Section 2: National Perspectives and Strategies for the Conservation of Sacred Natural Sites

5. Sacred Mandala: Protecting Bhutan’s Sacred Natural Sites

Liza Zogib, Khenpo Phuntshok Tashi, Tshewang Gyalpo, Sangay Dendhup, Riamsara Kuyakanon, Kelzang Wangchuk, Lopen Namgay Tenzin and Ngawang Gyeltshen

6. Indian Sacred Natural Sites: Ancient Traditions of Reverence and Conservation Explained from a Hindu Perspective

Rana P.B. Singh and Pravin S. Rana

7. Interface between Sacred Natural Sites and Formal Protected Areas for Biodiversity Conservation in Nepal

Jailab Kumar Rai and Sudeep Jana

Section 3: Legal Approaches and Governance of Sacred Natural Sites

8. Customary Laws Governing the Sacred Natural Sites of the Xe Champhone Ramsar Site in Lao PDR: Implications for Site Management

Raphaël Glémet, Patricia Moore, Ketsana Phommachanh and Minavanh Pholsena

9. Legal Interpretation of the Sacred Natural Sites and Cultural Heritage of the Dongaria Kondhs in India 

Radhika Borde

10. Forum Pekaseh in the Management of Subak Landscape of Catur Angga Batukaru, UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bali

Antoinette Royo, Wiwik Dharmiasih and Yunus Arbi

11. The Pa’oh’s Governance System and Kakku: Implications for Heritage Conservation from Burma/Myanmar

Jonathan Liljeblad

Section 4: The Conservation of Sacred Lands Meets the Challenges of Development

12. Kailash Sacred Landscape: Bridging Cultural heritage, Conservation and Development through a Transboundary Landscape Approach

Abhimanyu Pandey, Rajan Kotru and Nawraj Pradhan

13. Mount Fuji’s History as a Spiritual Realm and Means for its Preservation

Toshihiko Ono, Tetsuro Hongo and Kiyotatsu Yamamoto

14. Animism and Traditional Knowledge Disappear in Virachey National Park, Cambodia

Gregory McCann and Yi-Chung Hsu

15. Holy Hills: Sanctuaries of Biodiversity in Xishuangbanna, South West China

Lily Zeng and Gaëtan Reuse

Section 5: A Role for Custodians and Religious Leaders in the Conservation of Sacred Natural Sites

16. Lakes of the Gods: Sacred High Altitude Lakes of Uttarakhand, India

Jatinder Kaur and Khima Nand Balodi

17. Ysyk-Köl Lake, the Planet’s Third Eye: Sacred Sites in Ysyk-Köl Biosphere Reserve, Kyrgyzstan 

Aibek Samakov and Fikret Berkes

18. Sacred Tsum Valley: Improving Biodiversity Conservation with Lessons for Effective Management of Protected Areas in Nepal 

Jailab Rai, Nima Lama and Bas Verschuuren 

19. Past and Present Biocultural Significance of Sea Turtles for Local Communities on the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia

Vanda Mendonca, Boutros Abi-Aoun and Mohamed El Baradey

Section 6: Dualing Spirits and Sciences: Revisiting the Foundations of Conservation 

20. Lua people: Traditions, Beliefs and Sacred Natural Sites in Northern Thailand

Narong Pongpandecha and Ken Taylor

21. Creating New Discursive Terrain for the Custodians of the Tibetan Spiritscape in North West Yunnan

John Studley and Awang Jikmed

22. Where Culture and Nature Meet: Recreating Spiritual and Religious Practices for Site Management and Governance in Takht-e Soleyman Lake, Iran

Minoo Hassani Esfehani

23. Ritual and Cultural Revival at Tuvan Sacred Natural Sites Supports Indigenous Governance and Conservation of Nature in China 

Yuxin Hou

24. Conclusions: How the Cultural, Spiritual and Philosophical Underpinnings of Sacred Natural Sites can make Conservation in Asia more Effective and Sustainable 

Bas Verschuuren

Appendix: The Darvi Declaration of Sacred Sites Guardians and Traditional Cultural Practitioners of the Pamir, Tien Shan and Altai Sayan Biocultural Mountain Systems

Darvi Sum, Khovd aimag, Mongolia, 10th of July 2014 


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Bas Verschuuren is a freelance conservation adviser and an associate researcher at the Department of Sociology of Development and Change at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. He is co-chair to the IUCN-WCPA Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas and co-founder of the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative. 

Naoya Furuta is Coordinator at IUCN Japan Liaison Office and a professor at the Institute of Regional Development at Taisho University in Tokyo, Japan. He is a long-time member of Biodiversity Network Japan and also a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas.


"During the past three decades I have photographed and studied 800 places of pilgrimage in more than 150 countries. This gives me a rare vantage point from which to comment on the research and publishing work of Bas Verschuuren. In his newest book, Asian Sacred Natural Sites, he has with consistently high quality given us a comprehensive coverage of the fascinating subject."Martin Gray, National Geographic photographer and author of Sacred Earth: Places of Peace and Power (2007)

"An exciting set of essays contributing to one of humanity's most pressing challenges: how to re-establish our place within nature, respecting it as the source of all life, in ways that go beyond the physical and material into the spiritual and ethical, and learning from peoples who have done it for millennia."Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh, India and co-editor of Protected Areas, Governance and Management (2015) 

"Asian Sacred Natural Sites shows that today’s protected areas draw from ancient ideas of the sacred values of nature. Our ancestors gave special status to certain ecologically productive places, and the authors convince us that treating protected areas with a sense of sacredness will help ensure a productive future for all." – Jeffrey A. McNeely, former IUCN Chief Scientist and Asian protected area systems design expert for the Asian Development Bank 

"At last! This fascinating and in-depth book tells of the inherent links between sacred places and environment and therefore between faith and conservation. Most of our national parks only exist because they have been sacred for centuries and therefore could become parks. This book provides the vital stepping stone for secular conservation to finally work as partner with the worlds of faith and together to create a more sacred future."Martin Palmer, Alliance of Religion and Conservation 

"This is a very skillfully edited, most substantial, and high-quality survey in depth of sacred natural sites in Asia, covering theory as well as practice. This fascinating benchmark contribution deserves careful consideration by a wide and diverse audience including scientists and academics interested in the interrelationships of culture, religion, and ecology as well as conservationists and environmentalists in general."Leslie E. Sponsel, University of Hawai`i, USA and author of Spiritual Ecology (2012) 

"This book’s exceptionally rich set of case studies from across Asia powerfully attests to the important role of sacred natural sites in biocultural diversity. To this the volume adds a strong critique of mainstream conservation and a cogent call for reforming the conceptualization, governance, and management of protected areas to respect sacred natural sites' conservation significance, numinous character, and the worldviews, rights, responsibilities, and concerns of their indigenous, community, and faith group custodians. Highly recommended."Stan Stevens, University of Massachusetts, USA and author of Indigenous Peoples, National Parks, and Protected Areas (2014) 

"The value of sacred sites for the conservation of ecosystems and organisms is increasingly being recognised... This is both a wide-reaching and specialist text which brings together a broad range of authors, disciplines and examples". - A.M. Mannion, Bulletin of the British Ecological Society