The natural environments amid which human societies have evolved have influenced the development of spiritual and religious belief systems. Nature, including natural landforms, continues to figure prominently in traditional and polytheistic faiths and residually in monotheistic faiths. This prominence has resulted in numerous landforms, including some islands, water bodies, rocks, mountains and caves, coming to be regarded as sacred sites, thereby adding a cultural dimension to their potential natural geoheritage status. Sacred status may confer a form of proxy reservation that aids protection of the natural values of a site but this potential varies considerably between and within faiths, largely according to the degree of anthropocentricity in how the faith is interpreted and practiced. In some cases, religious practices can involve deliberate removal of natural heritage attributes from the site; in others, site degradation results from visitor traffic or the installation of iconography or infrastructure. Managers of sacred geoheritage may be faced with challenges related to the continuation of the religious activities that underpin the cultural geoheritage values of a site versus the harm these practices may cause to its natural geoheritage values. But even where dominant local stakeholders are concerned only with the religious function or only with the natural function, it may still be possible to influence site management in ways beneficial to other values. Particular challenges are posed where sites are shared between multiple faiths, by interfaith conflict, by the structures and evolution of faith-based site governance systems, necessary confidentiality concerning some sites, and achieving productive liaison and co-operation between disparate stakeholders.
geoheritage, geopiety, geotourism, religious tourism