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 MetaverseAccording 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.’The 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?