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11.00  On the Divide between Secular Values and Use Values in Heritage Conceptions of Churches

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11:00, Saturday 4 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

This paper will address the different meanings of the concept of “use” within heritage conservation discourse and practice, and in particular as they apply to Swedish religious heritage. Within conservation theory and international charters it has since long been stated that a continual use is fundamental to an object’s heritage status. Building conservationists also commonly acknowledge that continual use saves historic buildings from physical decay and that it is therefore a primary concern. However, in the Swedish context, there is a legally and economically founded notion that points in the opposite direction: conservation funding should not sustain or increase use values since these are believed to augment the economic value. According to this notion, the so-called historic values constitute all qualities that are not considered usable. 

These different positions amount to a dilemma: while the stay-in-use of a historic object is considered a prerequisite for preserving cultural heritage, use should not be dealt with or economically encouraged once the object is defunct. The paper has two aims: firstly to present the historical background and current expressions of this dilemma and explore its consequences as they appear in the specific case of Swedish church building conservation; secondly to discuss the dilemma in relation to other national contexts and notions of value within heritage conservation of religious heritage. 

When the Church of Sweden was separated from the state in 2000, it became the formal owner of three thousand parish churches, most of them listed. The buildings, which are still used as churches, were legally defined as a national cultural heritage of concern to all citizens, regardless of faith or affiliation. The ownership implied an unusual responsibility with great economic effects for the Church, and as a consequence the Swedish state decided on a yearly financial compensation. To ensure the religious independence of the secular state, the compensation must only cover costs that are related to the preservation of historic values. This condition also corresponds to the established view that historic values can and should be separated from use values. The state heritage authorities do not fund measures that are aimed at supporting or facilitating religious activities. Concurrently, the case study shows that when administering church errands, conservation officers are officially instructed to reflect upon what practical implications their decisions have on the religious use. In other words, when handling the material church heritage, they should take into consideration how the proposed measures, alterations, or prohibitions may change the every-day religious rituals and uses. 

This distinction between historic (secular, non-use) values, and religious (present-day use) values involves several complications. Most importantly, the divide between heritage use and religious use is not only imaginary but also an improper construct. Studies show, for example, that people who visit the church buildings do not and cannot tell apart their different aims of use. Or that, when attending mass, which includes bodily performances such as singing hymns and joining of hands, people assert many different reasons why they go to church. Moreover, visitors who express a wish to experience the cultural heritage of a church, also claim that the church building affects them strongly and produces emotions of transcendence. Another reason why “use values” are difficult to separate in this particular context is that contemporary Christian rituals and discourse are permeated with reverence of and references to the past. In the paper these issues will be discussed as connected to different notions of religion as heritage and heritage as religion.

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