Contested Holiness: Conflicts about sacred places in Culture Wars

Berlis, Angela (19 June 2018). Contested Holiness: Conflicts about sacred places in Culture Wars (Submitted). In: Panel "Sacred Places and Multiple Religious Identities: Past and Present" at the16th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religion (EASR), "Multiple Religious Identities - Individuals, Communities, Traditions ". Bern University. 17.-21. Juni 2018.

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The paper at the panel "Sacred Places and Multiple Religious Identities: Past and Present" deals with the question of how religious conflicts between different religious groups become visible through conflicts about holy places and vice versa. Here we may think at first of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. When today in Western Europe a former building of worship is sold to another religious community, this normally causes less trouble and discussion than if the same building would get a secular reassignment. This, however, is a quite recent situation in secularized Western countries.

Not too long ago, in the 19th century Culture Wars, this could be different, if one community did not agree to passing on or „losing“ a building to another religious group. In this case, a consecrated building could be desecrated: not through iconoclastic deeds like in the confessional age, but by putting an interdict on a church (by the bishop of Rome) so that it would become a no-go area for the former inside group, or by other forms of exclusion. On the other hand, in Western Christianity after the 17th century, in some places, so called „simultanea“ came into being: church buildings that were used by both the Catholic and the Protestant community. In times of conflict, even a simultaneum could become a contested holy place. The paper will explore examples like the Heiliggeistkirche in Heidelberg (Germany), where a wall was built within the church to separate the different communities; and the St Peter and Paul Church in Bern to show how those consecrated places for worship functioned in the 19th century culture wars as identity markers, demarcating liturgical and ritual praxis and religious identity from other religious groups which were at that time in fact. quite similar to each other.

Both cases show how disputes about religious issues find their expression through the interpretation of what a sacred place is (not) and in its (re-)appropriation as a sacred place. The historical review about contested sacred places can reveal insights for today’s dealing with sacrality of places between different religions, and contributes to a discussion of what is constitutive for being „sacred“ or „secular“.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


01 Faculty of Theology > Institute of Old Catholic Theology

UniBE Contributor:

Berlis, Angela


200 Religion
200 Religion > 280 Christian denominations
200 Religion > 290 Other religions




Angela Berlis

Date Deposited:

04 Jun 2019 13:13

Last Modified:

04 Jun 2019 13:13

Uncontrolled Keywords:

religious conflict - places - Culture War - 19th century


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