GSP ‘Power and Identity’ International Conference, University of Tokyo, 9th January 2017

IMG_6789.JPGFor those of you who are local and/or interested in attending, I will be presenting at University of Tokyo’s international, cross-disciplinary GSP conference early next year. The conference has been organised by UT’s Global Studies Program and will bring together an eclectic mix of research on the theme(s) of ‘Power and Identity’. I will be presenting some thoughts on (geo)politics, landscape and marginalised spiritualities in Britain. Please see the abstract below. The conference will take place on Monday January 9th 2017  at University of Tokyo’s Komaba I campus.

Further information on the GSP conference can be found here.

Sacred Places/Contested Spaces: examining marginalised spirituality and the struggle for religious identity in the United Kingdom 1985 to present.

Whilst it has often been claimed by mainstream religious groups in the West that rights and religious freedoms are ‘under attack’ from evermore secularised and politically liberal governments, far less attention has been paid to how ground-level power struggles have affected the ability to worship of those individuals belonging to more marginal religious communities. In particular, claims to sacred spaces that are located in privately owned, conserved or managed landscapes have seen rights of access and worship challenged. This has led to power relations between landowners, ground managers and religious communities becoming strained, resulting in staged protest and accusations of suppression of religious identity.

Spiritual groups belonging to Britain’s New Age movement have, in particular, been at the forefront of protests against restriction of access to historically sacred sites, with 1985’s ‘Battle for Stonehenge’ being a landmark case in the policing and controlling of religious spaces. As such, marginal religious communities defined as ‘New Age’ have seen both a common and official de-legitimisation of their claims to sacred sites that has at best seen restriction of access, and in worst cases, the prohibition of entrance to sites of specific spiritual importance.

This paper aims to present an overview of recent historical and contemporary events in the United Kingdom that have led to a questioning of how religious identity might be defined and legitimised, as well as assessing the role of the spatial in the practices of alternative spiritualities. Through an examination of specific case studies, I will highlight examples of contested sacred places from the UK over the last 30 years, demonstrating where religious identity has been challenged and problematised through the privatisation and restriction of certain landscapes. Reflecting on wider issues of control and surveillance, this paper will argue that the protection of the right to practice religious freedom must also include a protection of rights to land access, and in doing so, ensure the preservation of religious and cultural identity.

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