Special Issue "Religious Space as Cultural Heritage"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 March 2019

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Ola Wetterberg

Department of Conservation, University of Gothenburg, Box 130SE 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden
Website 1 | Website 2 | E-Mail
Interests: Religious Heritage; Urban History; Development and Conservation; History and Theory of Conservation
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Eva Löfgren

Department of Conservation, University of Gothenburg, Box 130SE 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden
Website 1 | Website 2 | E-Mail
Interests: Religious Heritage; History of Public Buildings; Urban History

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The settings of religious worship are rapidly transforming. Demographic changes, secularisation, and the attention of heritage institutions affect religious space and objects in various ways in different parts of the world. Some sanctuaries and temples lose their original purpose and are adapted to serve new functions, others stay consecrated but host new religious communities. Heritage tourism at some places thrives and intermingles with the ongoing religious practice. Other sites see declining worship, while sacred objects are turned into museum pieces or commodified and sold as precious antiquities. It is a fact that many Christian communities in Western Europe and large parts of the North-American continent have more church buildings at their disposal than they can either use or maintain. In Asia, the resurrection of the Buddhist temples is driven both by religious communities and by the growing heritage industry. Whether mainly related to religious contents or to cultural heritage, the significance of most places of worship is going through changes that have and will continue to have thorough effects on societal life. These changes and their consequences constitute the focus of this particular issue.

The pastness of religious material objects can be determined as significant in two interwoven ways that depart from two likewise interwoven perspectives: internally, by the religious community, as part of a living tradition, and externally, by society, as a secular—scientific or cultural—heritage. The different, at times conflicting interests and motives of these two positions or stakeholders result in frequent interactions and negotiations that involve religious institutions, conservation professionals, tourism managers, and other local, regional, national, and international organisations.

This Special Issue aims to address practical, ethical, and theoretical dilemmas related to the use, management, and significance of religious heritage in a comparative and global perspective. We welcome contributions spanning from reflexive case studies to historical and theoretical approaches.

Prof. Dr. Ola Wetterberg
Prof. Dr. Eva Löfgren
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charges (APCs) of 550 CHF (Swiss Francs) per published paper are partially funded by institutions through Knowledge Unlatched for a limited number of papers per year. Please contact the editorial office before submission to check whether KU waivers, or discounts are still available. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Cultural Heritage
  • Religious Buildings
  • Adapted use
  • Sacrality and Profanity
  • Secularisation
  • Global comparative perspective

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Prospects for a postsecular heritage practice: mapping convergences between popular religious practice in Asian and the posthumanist turn in scholarship

Abstract: The material embeddedness of the divine in the objects and sites of popular religion in Asia establishes the grounds for a conflict between devotees and heritage practitioners – the same objects are central to the practice of each but each hone’s in on them via a radically different ontology. While in principle offering an even-handed consideration of all aspects of a thing’s meaning, the secular-rationalist underpinning of the practice of significance-assessment in heritage management acts to marginalise or even efface the eruptively miraculous qualities of divine objects. It serves, in other words, as a regime of insignificance. Against this background, I argue that the posthuman turn in the humanities and social sciences, and in particular its openness to forms of agency, vibrancy and vitality in the object world, offers prospects for a kind of heritage practice newly comfortable with the vibrancy that belief in the supernatural lends to the things of popular religion, be they statues of Chinese deities, the smoke of incense offered to them and the temples that house them, the bricks of Buddhist stupas, or stones from sacred mountains. Ontological differences remain but it is possible to be positive about the prospects for a postsecular heritage practice precisely because the rationalist authority of established practice is so under challenge by the counter discourses of posthumanism, the new materialism, and related streams of thought. There has, it is suggested, never been a better time for heritage practice to get over its problem with the supernatural.

Title: Something more than a monument – the long-term sustainability of rural historic temples in China

Abstract: The southeast part of Shanxi Province in China is a region with the highest concentration of early timber structures in the country, among which a majority are located in rural and semi-rural religious or spiritual places. Social changes regarding rural population, religious demography as well as the ‘heritagisation’ process of these places of worship have presented unprecedented challenges to their long-term survival. A national campaign which lasts from 2005-2015 has contributed to a series of restoration projects in this region, covering 105 national heritage sites with pre-Yuan Dynasty structures, yet their maintenance, management and sustainable functions remain uncertain despite their improved ‘physical’ health. It also raises the question of how these (former) places of worship can be integrated into contemporary society. This paper aims to critically analyse the situation and the reasons behind, through reviews of the relevant legislative and administrative system and policies, interviews with various stakeholder groups, as well as on-site observations in the case study region. Besides presenting the challenges, the paper also aspires to stimulate discussions on a way forward, by analysing a positive case where local effort contributes to the sustainability of the historic temple, and in this sense also enhances the socio-cultural sustainability of the community around the religious heritage.


This paper examines the question if and how the experience of landscape differs in pilgrimage and nature/heritage tourism at Meili Snow Mountains National Park, Yunnan, China. Meili Mountains are a part of the Three Parallel Rivers UNESCO World Natural Heritage site and the mountains, especially the highest peak Khawa Karpo, are holy to the Tibetans. The term “nature” is assumed to be universal category which is separate from human-shaped space. If sacralization of nature is seen as a foundational aspect of environmentalism and these views are seen to be universal, how does the embodied experience of hiking (nature tourism) differ from pilgrimage in these differently constructed landscapes?

The world heritage status, formation of the national park and the formal name change of the area into Shangri-la have resulted in quick growth of tourism. All of the holy mountains of Tibetan Buddhism have been recognized as natural heritage even though by virtue of human interaction and interpretation, all ‘natural’ landscapes are culturally inscribed, understood and valued, even more so when the local understanding of ‘nature’ differs completely from ours. The holy Khawa Karpo was originally a fierce mountain demon, that was transformed into a protector of the Dharma by Padmasambhava in the eight century. Now the landscape of Meili Mountains is explained in signs placed along the pilgrimage/tourist routes giving the sites/sights overly Buddhist explanations. Yet, according to local beliefs, in addition to Khawa Karpo, much of the surrounding landscape is also animate.

Title: The Legal Foundations of Religious Cultural Heritage Protection

It is common knowledge that the identification of religious cultural heritage is prima facie based upon the fundamental choice (either made by a certain religious group, or by the society as a whole) as to which religious elements of this broader “culture” should be deemed worthy of preservation for the generations to come. However, the process of defining and protecting certain religious elements as invaluable heritage assets, is - more than often- a complex one. In fact, it is exactly this, rather intricate, process that lends religious cultural heritage its powerful legal dimension, since the decision as to what and how is deemed worthy of protection and preservation, is primarily made by Law. In this light, the present article will briefly examine the legal foundations for the protection of religious cultural heritage at the international level, in accordance with the principle of freedom of religion and the right to culture. Apart from the examination of various pertinent provisions, norms and regulations relating to the protection of religious heritage, crucial cultural themes will be also presented, utilizing a broader interdisciplinary approach of the subject matter.

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