FUNDED PROJECT (European Union HERA 15.033)

P.I.: Clara Saraiva


Since World War II, heritage is increasingly seen as defining identities and communities in times of change, and often what is now considered heritage was and still is seen as religious in nature and possibly sacred. Heritage, on the other hand, involves an explicitly secular gaze that sacralizes non-religious aspects of religious sites, objects and practices in a cultural, historical, or otherwise secular, immanent frame. The project HERILIGION seeks to understand the consequences of the heritagization of religious sites, objects and practices which were not considered heritage before, and which may provoke tensions between heritage and religious constituencies; between religious and secular sacralizations and uses; and between different disciplines and management regimes. HERILIGION seeks to take theories of heritage and heritagization into novel directions by linking it to the analytical categories of religion, the secular, and the sacred. The main research question is how the heritagization of religious sites, objects and practices relate to religious and  secular experiences connected to these; and in particular to secular and religious forms of sacralization linking past, present and future. The researchers will use a comparative approach to produce new insights which can be used to understand, manage and defuse tensions, benefiting both religious and heritage constituencies in Europe. The research will take place at religious and heritage sites in Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, the UK and Portugal, and will focus on emerging practical heritage (so-called intangible cultural heritage) in these countries.

In Portugal, the PI is Clara Saraiva and the project involves two institutions, working in collaboration, Centro de Estudos Comparatistas- FLUL and CRIA, Centro em Rede de Investigação em Antropologia, as well as three non academic partners, the National Museum of Ethnology, the Museum of Lisbon and a civil association (ATUPO).


According to the approved proposal, the Portuguese team  will focus on the heritagization processes connected with four strategic sites that highlight the multifarious intersections between the secular and the religious approaches to heritage. In each of these sites we will investigate the paradoxes and tensions inherent in the heritagization of religious sites, objects and practices. An ethnographic approach will be used, using the methods of participant observation, Informal interviews and talks, and the analysis of local documents. The four case studies are:

  1. Sintra: one of Portugal’s best-known UNESCO World Heritage sites that is increasingly being used and reclaimed by Neopagans, New Agers and by followers of the Afro-Brazilian religions as a sacred place (FLUL team);
  2. Catholic shrine of Fátima: the second most important Marian pilgrimage site in Europe that is emerging as a location for inter-religious dialogue and used by other Christian denominations as well as Muslims, Hindus and practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions and New Agers (CRIA team under supervision of the PI);
  3. Mértola: an archaeological site that is being used by governmental and non-governmental organizations (among which the institutional representatives of Portuguese Islam) as a key symbol for Portugal’s Islamic past and the necessity of peaceful cohabitation and tolerance (CRIA team under supervision of the PI);
  4. Mouraria: the (Moorish) neighbourhood in Lisbon which, due to the historical and contemporary presence of Muslims, is being celebrated as a place of cultural and religious richness.

Furthermore, the subproject will also explore the dialogues established with similar and mirroring processes in the lands of origin of the migrants that brought new religions into the country. Through a comparative approach that combines methods from the anthropology and religious studies, HERILIGION will analyse the paradoxes and tensions inherent in the heritagization of religious sites and the sacralization of secular/cultural spaces (CRIA team under supervision of the PI).

Institutional protocols

Project funded by the European Union HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area)


Clara Saraiva (CEC-FLUL e CRIA*)
Anna Niedzwiedz (Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland)
Ferdinand de Jong (University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK)
Irene Stengs (Meertens Institute, the Netherlands)
Oscar Salemink (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

*CRIA Team
Anna Fedele
José Mapril
Maria Cardeira da Silva
Roberta Boniolo

Duration of the project

Setembro, 2016 – Agosto 2019



This work is financed by national funds through the FCT - Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P., within the scope of the project UIDB/00509/2020 and UIDP/00509/2020.