Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 12, No 2 (2018)

Problematizing Ideas of Purity and Timelessness in the Conservation Narratives of Sacred Groves in Xishuangbanna, China

Lily Zeng
Issued Date: 2 Oct 2018


The recent promotion of sacred groves in conservation often assumes four problematic narratives of nature and culture based on ideas of purity and timelessness: (1) sacred groves are remnants of pristine forests; (2) nature is made sacred through the absence of human activity; (3) sacred groves are a-historical; and (4) sacred groves are removed from modernity. I problematize these narratives using ethnographic analyses of sacred groves protected by ethnic minority Dai communities in Xishuangbanna, a region containing China's richest biodiversity. I argue that the nature-culture divide inherent in conservation literature poorly describes sacred groves, which are dynamic entities integrated into modern Dai communities. Moreover, I contend that these narratives persist because they are deployed for political agendas by various outside actors (e.g., government, conservationists, tourism developers) and occasionally by Dai communities themselves during the co-production of landscapes, livelihoods, and identity corresponding to times of rapid transformation in a modern world.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.34555


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