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The Values of Sacred Swamps: Belief-Based Nature Conservation in a Secular World

Narasimha Hegde, Rafael Ziegler, Hans Joosten

Environmental Values 29 (2020): 443-459. doi: 10.3197/096327120X15752810324084

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Global forest loss is highest in the tropical region, an area with high biological biodiversity. As some of these forests are part of indigenous forest management, it is important to pay attention to such management, its values and practices for better conservation. This paper focuses on sacred freshwater swamp forests of the Western Ghats, India, and with it a faith-based approach to nature conservation.

Drawing on fieldwork and focus groups, we present the rituals and rules that structure the governance of sacred swamps. We also discuss in depth the ecological, socio-cultural and economic valuation of these freshwater swamps by various local groups. In this way, we show overlaps and differences of valuation among different groups. In the context of a secular state with a diversity of faith groups and migration dynamics, we propose that faith-based governance of sacred swamps can benefit from the emphasis of faith-independent, 'accessible' ecological, socio-cultural and economic values to foster a dialogue around sacred swamps and their place for livelihoods and nature conservation.


Biodiversity, freshwater swamps, sacred swamp, values, Western Ghats

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Editorial: Days of Decision. Clive L. Spash

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