Ron Hassner on Sacred Spaces & Holy Conflict
Date: September 29th, 2013

Note: This is an encore performance of one of my favorite interviews from three years ago, yet it remains as timely as ever given the current politics of the day.  The RoR staff has been busy recently, but we will return soon with some fresh episodes shortly.  Please stay tuned for more details and subscribe to our Facebook Fan Page for regular updates.

Religious conflict has been common throughout history.  But why have conflicts over sacred spaces such as shrines or temples been so remarkably difficult to solve, especially when compared to conflicts over more “secular” territory or issues?  Ron Hassner – associate professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley, and the co-director of the Religion, Politics, and Globalization Program – presents an intriguing explanation for the intractability of religious conflict.

Prof. Hassner argues in plain and simple language that the nature of “sacred ground,” specificially its indivisibility, frequently makes conflict impossible to resolve between two parties who are contesting the ownership or control of sacred space.  Prof. Hassner vividly illustrates his theory with a number of intriguing examples including the conflict over the Temple Mount / Haram el Sharif in Jerusalem, the controversy over the building of a mosque and Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center in NYC, and several other historical conflicts.

Near the end of the podcast, Prof. Hassner notes that it may be impossible to end conflict over various sacred spaces, but there are means for mitigating the negative effects of such conflict.  He appeals to diplomats to include the views of religious authority when crafting mutually agreeable settlements to conflict.  Since the initial interview back in 2010, Prof. Hassner has been granted tenure in his academic department.  Us folks at RoR would like to think that his appearance on our show had a big hand in that decision.  Recorded: October 15, 2010.



Prof. Ron Hassner’s website at UC-Berkeley.

War on Sacred Grounds, by Ron E. Hassner (Cornell University Press).

The Religion, Politics and Globalization Program at UC-Berkeley.


Sean Everton on Dark Networks.

Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War.

Eli Berman on religious terrorism.

Rod Stark on the Crusades.

2 Responses to “Ron Hassner on Sacred Spaces & Holy Conflict”

  1. GL says:

    1) I think this dude is far too pessimistic about resolving the conflicts. Religious leaders can subdue a conflict just as easily as they can start a conflict by preaching hostility and intolerance. Think of it this way, the Greeks had the parthenon as a holy shrine, but it certainly is not any more. It is extremely easy for a religion to switch its cosmetics like rituals if the elite of that religion is willing. Look at america there are thousands of churches with their own rituals and doctrines which change all the time.
    2) I think this dude also is mistaken about the fundamental source of the conflict. I think it is the political/military realities which are the only source of real conflict, religious conflict is merely a symptom of these political/military conflicts. What is in question in Jerusalem and Palestine is land and ownership of that land for the purpose of living and doing business, not worshipping. The temple mount is fought over because it is a symbol, but actually every piece of palestine is just as much fought over as the temple mount.

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