Sacred Sites in Contested Regions

Lectures & Publications

גיאופוליטיקה של קדושה ולאומיות: שלושת אתרי הטבילה של ישוע לאורך נהר הירדן

הרצאה שניתנה במסגרת מושב בכנס הגאוגרפי הישראלי

המושב עסק בגאוגרפיה של דת במאה ה-21: מבטים תיאורטיים על נוף וקדושה

להרצאה המלאה


Geopolitics of Sanctity, Borders and Nationality: The Three Jesus' Baptismal Sites along the Jordan River

Abstract of a lecture presented at the workshop: 

Geography of Religion in the 21st Century: Theoretical views on landscape and sanctity

Janorary 20, 2015

Lior chen


Following the re-conceptualization of space among critical geographers (Jackson, Massey, Harvey) places are no longer considered as inert, a static and fixed entity. Further, the sanctity of sacred places is not an inherent component nor does it leads necessarily to social solidarity among the people who visit and venerate the site. Places, as the argument goes, are always in a process of becoming (Pred) and as such in a state of constant flux. This viewpoint, promotes also the understanding that sacred places and pilgrimage sites are part of the social experience and social conflicts.

In light of these arguments, geographers and anthropologists reexamine sacred places and pilgrimage sites around the world and present a variety of conflicts associated with them: conflicts between different religions, conflicts within the same religious denominations, conflicts between religious and secular groups and conflicts between different nations (Eade and Sallow, Bax, Bowman, Chidester and Linenthal, Kong, Ivakhiv, Luz). One of the major arenas for this research is the "Holy land" space (the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian territory). This is due to the conflicting component, which has only intensified in the present era, between the various religious and social groups and political players who share this space.

In this lecture I suggest a new direction on the study of sacred sites and pilgrimage to the Holy land. I argu that while in former studies the central groups which were involved in creating and constructing the sacred place are also the groups responsible for bringing the pilgrims to the sites in the present study I explore sites in which, the parties responsible for the changes within the place are members of a different religions and nationalities. The findings are part of an extensive field work conducted as part of my Ph. D. Thesis ‘And a river runs through them: Construction of sanctity, nationalism preformed through Christian Baptism sites along the Jordan River' under the supervision of Prof. Nurit Stadler and Prof. Tamar El-or at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Specifically, In this paper I argue that the "impresarios" of the Christian baptismal sites along the Jordan River, Israelis' Jews and Jordanian Muslims (while Palestinian officials also play a role here) have constructed and reinforced the authentication and the sacredness of the sites which are located on their territory for the purpose of ratifying their own nationalism. This ratification is accompanied by a multidimensional competition between the pilgrimage sites, a competition that involves areas such as religion, politics, archeology, economy and tourism.