Established in 1998, the Specialist Group on the Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas seeks to identify, define, and provide guidelines for managing the Cultural and Spiritual dimensions of protected areas.
No single word or phrase, in a single language, can hope to accurately express the complexity and richness of the values we are talking about.
There are over 6,000 languages in the world, and each one has unique strengths (and weaknesses) in how it describes the complexity of existence. There is no widely understood word in English that captures the sense of interconnectedness between humans and the Earth, between the physical world and the world of the spirit, between the mundane and the sacred, and so on. Other languages have words that come closer to hitting the mark (for example, the Spanish cosmovisión) and the Task Force encourages people to seek alternative terms in their own languages that have greater meaning to them.
We are concerned with values that support the protection of and reverence for Earth. One limitation of introducing the term Culture into the title of the Task Force is that there are many cultures that do not value Earth, that believe nature exists only to serve humans, that are locked into a fundamentalism that does not respect other viewpoints. Cultural diversity has great value, but one does not have to support every existing cultural practice in order to support cultural diversity. The Task Force exists to foster those cultural and spiritual values that support and respect nature and the Earth, and the variety of cultures that nature and the Earth sustains.
We are concerned not just with protected areas, but with all of nature and culture. As a Task Force of the WCPA, we have a sharp focus on protected areas. However, protected areas are cultural creations that interact with wider human culture, as well as being set against a background of nature. For example, although the Task Force is concerned with sacred natural sites and larger sacred landscapes as forms of protected areas, we are also vitally concerned with the sacred dimension of nature as a whole.
Culture is alive. The term culture includes not just the past, and not just physical aspects of heritage. It includes living cultures that are not only connected to their ancestors but that continue to change and grow in response to the contemporary world. The term also include all the intangible aspects of culture, many of which lie at the very heart of culture.
The term cultural and spiritual values has a constellation of meanings. As a general summarizing point, the work of the Task Force should be understood to include a range of associated and interconnected meanings whose importance and coherence cannot be expressed in simple terms, and may not be expressible in words at all.
Work of the Specialist Group
Through the work of the Specialist Group, the WCPA can play an important role in redressing the imbalance between the emphasis given to the tangible and intangible aspects of protected area management. This can be accomplished by assisting WCPA members, and interested individuals around the world, to identify and manage the Cultural and Spiritual attributes of protected areas as a means of maximizing their contribution to society. To this end, the Task Force has already carried out some activities that include:
- definition of the terms most often used to describe Cultural and Spiritual values;
- an issue of PARKS dedicated to the theme of Cultural and Spiritual values;
- publication of the book, "The Full Value of Parks: From Economics to the Intangible", edited by David Harmon and Allen D. Putney, on the intangible values associated with protected areas;
- guidelines on the management of sacred natural sites;
- synthesis of a "Pre-Feasibility for the Development of a Network of Protected Areas Associated with the Gran Ruta Inca; and,
- work with an inter-institutional group to develop a common initiative for the protection and management of sacred natural sites.
Looking to the future, the task force intends to:
- cooperate with UNESCO, and the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation, andother interested organizations, in the development and implementation of an inter-institutional initiative on the protection and management of sacred natural sites;
- develop a major project to implement a network of protected areas associated with the Gran Ruta Inca in Andean South America and management of the related cultural landscapes;
- organize a "Dance for the Earth" world event that will focus on the cultural and spiritual links to protected areas;
- work with other institutions to develop impact assessment procedures related to the cultural and spiritual values of protected areas; and,
- development of methodologies for integrating cultural and spiritual values into the planning of protected areas