International Symposium organized by UNESCO, CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research, France) and MNHN (National Museum of Natural History).


22 - 25 September 1998

Title and Abstract:
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Conference Theme:
The symposium reflects increasing world-wide interest in a whole series of interrelated concerns, including the interrelations of culture and nature, traditional ecological knowledge and "bottom-up" approaches to biodiversity conservation. It is hoped that participants at the symposium will include researchers from a wide range of disciplines, representatives of indigenous peoples, and development planners and resource managers of various kinds. The focus of the symposium will be squarely on the interfaces and interactions between natural sacred sites, cultural specificities and biodiversity conservation and management. The symposium is also in line with the forthcoming international consultation on "Sacred Mountains" organized by The Mountain Institute at Spruce Knob (USA, 15-18 April 1998).

In a wide variety of societies and environments, "natural" areas deemed to be "sacred" have received special treatment: woodlands, forest groves, mountains, islands, water sources, caves, rivers... In recent years, conservation specialists and ecologists have become increasingly aware of the existence of these sites and have seen in them a demonstration of the capacity of traditional societies, through their knowledge and their symbolic systems, to conserve biodiversity in situ. This awareness has arisen during the last twenty years as part of a growing international recognition of what used to be known as "folk knowledge" and what is now generally called "traditional ecological knowledge", the environmental knowledge of local people and its use as a tool in natural resource management and sustainable development.

In what manner and to what extent have the practices and representations of local peoples favoured the conservation of biodiversity in certain privileged places? Can one pass with impunity from one system of meaning to another?

Specialists working at the interface of nature and society, and coming from a variety of different disciplines (ethnobiology, ecology, anthropology, conservation biology, religious studies, geography, history, law, botany ...) will be brought together around this transdiciplinary theme in order to:

* Describe and analyse the ecological and cultural specificity of "natural" sacred sites.

On the basis of field data on specific natural sites and on the practices and symbolic systems of a society, can we move beyond a universal notion of the "sacred", to attempt a typology of these places?

* Understand and take action.

What types of action of environmental protection, conservation and restoration are in place or might be envisaged? Have sacred sites allowed the preservation of ecosystems in their integrity? Can they serve as "indicator sites" for the rehabilitation of degraded environments? A critical analysis of these actions will seek to distill their scientific and ethical legitimacy.

English and French will be the working languages of the symposium, with simultaneous interpretation during plenary sessions, followed by discussion. Posters, films and videos are envisaged. Meeting rooms will also be available for informal group discussions to be organized by interested participants. A post-symposium field excursion will be organized for those wishing to explore further.



Dr. Marie Roue, Director,               
URA 882 Laboratoire d'Ethnobiologie
Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle
57 rue Cuvier 75005 Paris,  France      
Tel: (33-1) 40 79 36 68 or 82 
Fax: (33-1) 40 79 36 69 

Organizer from UNESCO:
Malcolm Hadley
Division of Ecological Sciences
1 rue Miollis
75732 Paris, Cedex 15, France
Direct Tel: (33) (1) 45 68 40 35
Direct Fax: (33) (1) 45 68 58 04

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