Religious Leaders Gather to Discuss Faith in Virtual Worlds

Virtual church The virtual world is a haven for countless community-building activities, and now an assembly of religious leaders is gathering in Chicago to discuss how to expand the role of faith in the Metaverse.

Last month we discussed the expansion of virtual religion in Second Life, and now it appears the fascination with the virtual faith is expanding into traditional religious circles.

Pixels and Policy investigates why next year's religious summit on virtual worlds could take the Metaverse in a divine direction.

Assessing the Role of Faith in the Metaverse

According to Ekklesia, the ecumenical gathering of religious leaders plans to discuss just how Second Life and other virtual worlds might expand the reach of traditional faiths into a new and uncharted Metaverse. 

The conference is managed by the Religion Communication Congress, an international organization of religious and communications experts that aim to examine not only how to expand the interfaith message in virtual worlds, but how virtual worlds can be used to advance social awareness, promote community involvement, and augment growing intercultural dialogues.

Among the RCC's work: A panel on using virtual worlds to better understand Islam and Christianity. This novel use of the communications power of the Metaverse was first pioneered by Rita King of Dancing Ink Productions in her much-cited work "Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds."

The virtual world provides a blank canvas for the vaulting ambitions of faith leaders from across the spectrum of belief, just as it has provided a means for aspiring musicians and others to express themselves on a canvas limited only by the scope of their imagination.

Communication and Communion

The Religion Communication Congress appears keenly aware of the collaborative power of virtual communities:

Communicators of faith often find themselves working in isolation, feeling very much ‘a voice crying in the wilderness.’

gift of Congress 2010 is the opportunity for such communicators from
all corners of the world and of diverse beliefs to come together to
share, to learn, to experience many cultural expressions of faith and
be strengthened in their ministry of communications.

Virtual faith is expanding apace with the continued growth of the virtual world, and recent research from Indiana University finds that a growing number of users attend virtual services or participate in religious activities in worlds like Second Life.

The religious awakening of the Metaverse is no longer something that can be ignored, and it raises important questions.

Is developing the role of faith in virtual worlds a step forward for the Metaverse, or does it risk bringing more real-world prejudice into a wavering fantasy sphere? Gender roles, racism and real-currency have invaded the virtual world – will religion serve as a unifying force or simply provide a line of division in an increasingly heterogeneous environment?

One thought on “Religious Leaders Gather to Discuss Faith in Virtual Worlds”

  1. “…recent research from Indiana University finds that a growing number of users attend virtual services or participate in religious activities in worlds like Second Life.”
    The paper to which that link points is dated December 1998, and says nothing about numbers of users — rather, it describes the language being used in one particular online religious setting whose name has been deliberately changed (for purpose of research ethics, we’re told), so that even its continued existence 11 years on, let alone an increase in attendants, cannot be verified.
    – – – – – – – – – – –
    Beyond that, however… to address the question posed:
    My personal experience in Second Life, limited as that may be, informs me that very few avatars make any sort of public identification (e.g., in their profiles) with their real-world religious adherence. In two years, I have yet to see religion discussed openly in Local Chat. It would seem that most people leave that part of their “first life” on the operator’s side of the keyboard when they enter Second Life, and I anticipate that will remain prevalent. Thus, I doubt that religion ‘per se’ will be a notable cause of increased prejudice.
    However, problems may arise if (when?) organizations of an evangelistic nature encourage their members to proselytize. The residents of Second Life will no more tolerate the equivalent of street-corner preachers, Moonies or Krishnas than they do the already obnoxious “Bloodlines” players. I predict such will be warned, then ejected and banned if warnings are not heeded.
    My advice, such as it is, for religions seeking to expand into virtual worlds: Make your presence known so that those who are already your brethren can find you, and “preach to the choir.” The rest of us don’t want to hear it.

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