Towards the De-secularisation of Heritage

Gamini Wijesuriya

International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), Rome, Italy


ABSTRACT  This paper argues that modern conservation concepts, as portrayed in documents like the Venice Charter, have led to the ‘secularisation’ of built heritage. The term ‘secularisation’ is used to describe the over-emphasis on materiality that has led to it being distanced from people. The main focus of this approach has been on the well-being of the material contents of heritage. The reason for this can be attributed to the fact that conservation philosophy in its formative stages was rooted in the contemporary secular values of the Western world. The paper discusses secularisation and its consequences, resistance to change and its authority or dominance in conservation practice. Despite this dominance and authority, the paper argues that changes which focus on people have happened, particularly, over the last two decades. These changes are characterised as the de-secularisation of heritage. Such changes can also be read as a paradigm shift of moving from the care of heritage to that of pursuing the well-being of both heritage and society as a whole. While providing some sources that can sustain de-secularisation, the paper argues that this shift is a sine qua non for heritage to be meaningful and also to act as a cultural motivator for development.


KEYWORDS  secularisation, conservation, management, heritage

Received 03 Apr 2017, Accepted 30 May 2017