Since time immemorial indigenous people have engaged in legal relationships with other-than-human-persons. These relationships are exemplified in enspirited sacred natural sites, which are owned and governed by numina spirits that can potentially place legal demands on humankind in return for protection and blessing. Although conservationists recognise the biodiverse significance of most sacred natural sites, the role of spiritual agency by other-than-human-persons is not well understood. Consequently, sacred natural sites typically lack legal status and IUCN-designated protection. More recent ecocentric and posthuman worldviews and polycentric legal frameworks have allowed courts and legislatures to grant 'rights' to nature and 'juristic personhood' and standing to biophysical entities. This book examines the indigenous literature and recent legal cases as a pretext for granting juristic personhood to enspirited sacred natural sites.
The author draws on two decades of his research among Tibetans in Kham (southwest China), to provide a detailed case study. It is argued that juristic personhood is contingent upon the presence and agency of a resident numina and that recognition should be given to their role in spiritual governance over their jurisdiction. The book concludes by recommending that advocacy organisations help indigenous people with test cases to secure standing for threatened sacred natural sites (SNS) and calls upon IUCN, UNESCO (MAB and WHS), ASEAN Heritage and EuroNatura to retrospectively re-designate their properties, reserves, parks and initiatives so that SNS and spiritual governance are fully recognised and embraced.
It will be of great interest to advanced students and researchers in environmental law, nature conservation, religion and anthropology.
Table of Contents
1. INDIGENOUS SACRED NATURAL SITES WITH REFERENCE TO TIBET 2. THEORETICAL BASIS FOR POST-ANTHROPOCENTRIC APPROACHES TO NATURE AND JURISPRUDENCE 3. INDIGENOUS SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY 4. LEGAL BACKGROUND TO JURISTIC PERSONHOOD 5. LEGISLATIVE CHRONOLOGY OF CASES 6. LITIGATION TO DATE 7. CASE STUDY: RITUAL PROTECTION OF SNS IN THE TIBETAN REGION OF KHAM (SOUTHWEST CHINA) 8. THE CHALLENGE OF PERPETUATING SNS 9. HOW CAN SACRED NATURAL SITES BEST BE PROSECUTED?
John Studley is an Independent Ethno-forestry Researcher and consultant, with many years of experience in the UK, China and Nepal.
"I have always thought that sacred sites make an important contribution to species conservation in many places around the world. Here is the carefully prepared evidence that duly describes and respects the beliefs of indigenous peoples.
The conservation of biological species and of indigenous cultures belong hand-in-hand. Nowhere is this more apparent that in the many sacred sites described here. They urgently need adequate legal standing so clearly outlined.
This is a compelling plea for greater realisation of the important contribution of Sacred Natural Sites to conservation and for better legal protection and understanding of their spiritual nature". - Professor Sir Ghillean Prance FRS, VMH author of That Glorious Forest: Exploring the Plants and Their Indigenous Uses in Amazonia and The Earth Under Threat: A Christian Perspective
"John Studley offers new perspectives on the importance that spirituality has for the conservation of cultural and natural heritage. Recognising spirits of place (other than human persons) as legal entities, legitimises their role in Indigenous cultures who’s worldviews continue to make significant contributions to the conservation of world’s biological and cultural diversity" - Bas Verschuuren, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
"John Studley opens up a novel, and possibly revolutionary, way for Western conservationists to help indigenous people worldwide protect nature. He suggests that many natural systems are inhabited by locally important spirits, and notes that those spirits have, in certain intriguing cases, been granted the attributes of juristic personhood. This concept which accords legal rights to nature spirits suggests that conservationists have a new and potentially powerful tactic to use in the fight against the people and institutions that destroy nature. It’s such a powerful concept that I’ve used it i