Negotiating the Sacred Turning Impossible Divides into Opportunities for Peace

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Daniel Shapiro


Our world is replete with clashes over issues deemed sacred—yet how can we ever resolve such issues when they are deemed to be nonnegotiable? This paper highlights major obstacles to negotiating the sacred, including the illusory assumption that identity itself is nonnegotiable. Drawing on Relational Identity Theory, I present four major principles to overcome those obstacles and negotiate the sacred: (1) disentangle the sacred from the secular; (2) respect the other party’s narrative on the sacred; (3) negotiate within their worldview; and (4) break down the sacred into solvable problems. In seemingly intractable conflicts over the sacred, the application of these principles can help parties reach a constructive agreement.

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Author Biography

Daniel Shapiro

Daniel L. Shapiro, Ph.D., is Founder and Director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program, Associate Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital, and Affiliate Faculty at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.