Sacred Space and Religious Ritual in the Virtual World: An exploration of religion in Second Life

Adrian Stagg & Dr Helen Farley, University of Southern Queensland Part of CW12

Religious and spiritual communities have leveraged the enormous potential of the internet to provide information to worshippers but also bring them together as a faith community. They have used chat rooms, discussion boards and podcasting to create or augment that sense of community generally only experienced at a service or religious festival. Virtual worlds, however, offer a step beyond what is traditionally seen as ‘supplementary’ religious information by creating online sacred spaces. It is within these spaces (be they churches, mosques or henges) that worshippers – through motional avatars –come together and worship. Adherents and participants claim that their worship experience in this space is genuine, yet this raises numerous issues around legitimacy, authority and authenticity.

The virtual world of Second Life is home to many religious buildings and spaces. Communities sometimes overtly, sometimes less so, come together to discuss religion, study scripture and often to participate in rituals, festivals or religious services. While many are undoubtedly genuine in their involvement (using it to augment or replace their real life religious activities), many more are experimenting with new faiths or roleplaying as an intellectual curiosity. This paper will explore the diversity of religious activity in Second Life, while pre-empting how religious practice in this space may evolve with the advent of new technologies such as Microsoft Kinect.

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