Accepted paper:

Pre-historic heritage, medieval monks and 21st century neo-shamans: Portuguese identity, religious freedom and the sacralization of the Sintra UNESCO heritage park in Portugal


Clara Saraiva (FLUL, University of Lisbon)

Paper short abstract:

The Sintra Unesco heritage park is used by different religious groups, and its use is not consensual. What is hidden to the public and what is shown in a country where religious freedom is supposed to be the norm?

Paper long abstract:

Heritage involves an explicitly secular gaze that sacralizes non-religious aspects of religious sites, objects and practices in a cultural, historical, or secular, immanent frame. Drawing on a on-going HERA (Humanities in the European Research Council) project, this paper will use ethnographical research to explore the relation and tensions between heritage and religion, and between religious and secular sacralizations and uses. It will draw on one of the case-studies in the project to discuss these notions: the famous Sintra Park (near Lisbon), classified by UNESCO as both material (due to the many castles and palaces) and natural heritage site (it is part of a Protected Natural Park), which is part of Portuguese identity. Classified as heritage, Sintra has also enjoyed a reputation for having a mystical religious aura and energy. If already in the 13th century it was the place for meditation and implantation of many religious orders, it is nowadays widely used by different religions (neo-pentecostals, Afro-Brazilian, neo-shamans, neo-druids, neo-pagans, etc.) for their gatherings and rituals. How do these different ideas of heritage in motion across time and religious affiliations get along in a zone increasingly touristified, where often people complain about the "strange" offerings they come across walking through the park? How do the Park authorities manage these tensions, in a country where religious freedom is consecrated in the Constitution, and a Commission for religious Freedom acts as its safeguard?

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