Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Being Virtually Real?

Online - Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet has just launched it's third issue under the theme "Being Virtually Real? Virtual Worlds from a Cultural Studies' Perspective". This is the only journal dedicated to issues of religion and the internet and in previous issues they have covered topic of theory and methodology related to studies of religion online and on religious rituals on the internet. In the current issue I would especially commend to you "The Church of Fools: Virtual Ritual and Material Faith" by Randy Kluver & Yanli Chen, a detailed investigation of one of the first experiment in doing Church in a virtual environment as well as "Rituals and Pixels. Experiments in Online Church" by Simon Jenkins who provides an autoethnography of his experience in this online worship experiment. A number of other interesting articles can also be found on religion in Second Life, Technoshamanism and spirituality in video gaming.


Tim said...

Finally! I've been looking forward to this for ages.

The Kluver article raises all sorts of interesting questions (for me, anyway, as I've also been studying Church of Fools and St Pixels).

There are some odd factual errors around the history of the sites, which might suggest (at a guess) that a draft wasn't shown to any site members before publication. The authors do say they interviewed members and engaged in some 'lived experience', though, so I'm not sure where these errors came from.

I'd have loved to have heard something more about how members were interviewed, and some examples of what they actually said, and some detail about the duration and nature of the authors' 'lived experience'.

The authors have also decided to include screenshots with large numbers of real usernames and avatar images, which seems to be a rejection of the (more usual?) use of pseudonyms and privacy. I'd always assumed it was unacceptable to reveal usernames - has consensus around this changed now?

The discussion is very useful, though, with some helpful references to Methodist theology, and the use of online blogs is enlightening - it's a good article overall.

I'll pass the link on to the site members for comment.

Tim said...

Simon Jenkins Church of Fools article is excellent, and will probably be the go-to reference for the history of that church from now on (along with Mark Howe's MTh thesis from Spurgeon College, which is more difficult to get hold of). He includes extensive material about how the church was designed, why decisions were made, and how participants felt about the church (based on his own experiences and on survey responses). Great.