Sanctuary Lab investigates how the stresses of global environmental change bear on places culturally marked and politically protected as special in some way—as sacred in that sense. Our hypothesis is that “sanctuary” integrates notions of environment, tradition, the sacred, and territory in ways that shape key sites of global change. While Sanctuary Lab’s long-term project aligns with all three priority areas, our proposed 2020-21 focus on the Jordan River basin investigates contested cultural conceptions of water in a sacred river; political challenges related to water distribution, sustainability, and resilience; and civic and scientific initiatives to address these challenges within a contested landscape.

The Experimental Humanities Lab calls on researchers from the sciences, arts, and humanities to collaborate with local scholars and experts in designing inquiries at
each sanctuary site. The landscape currently governed by Palestine and Israel is, most famously among our sites, perceived as a battleground between competing visions of “Holy Land.” Ancient literatures written and compiled from this landscape inscribe identity into the land differently, with consequences that include crusades, occupation, expulsion, finding refuge, or being made a refugee. Over the 20th century, Zionism has been enlisting the landscape by greening deserts, planting forests, digging for ancient history, uprooting olive groves, razing villages, renaming places, building settlements, draining swamps, “recovering” wetlands.

The project will bring into view how religions are shaping (and shaped by) the dynamics of global environmental change, especially as climate change impacts the
physical places where communities take refuge, where they go to understand and orient themselves. It will demonstrate how exploring meaning-making associated with sacred spaces, with sanctuaries, is a powerful way to study relationships between culture and environment, and that those relationships are crucial to making sustainable decisions in the Anthropocene.