Skriver paper om kyrkor i virtuella världar

Just nu sitter jag och skriver på ett paper till den 11:e internationella Internet Research-konferensen i Göteborg som hålls 21-23 oktober. Tillsammans med tre andra från HUMlab deltar jag i en panel som går under namnet ”Online Virtual Worlds: (Re)Constructing Re-thinking Reviewing”. Mitt bidrag är ett paper med titeln ”Churches in virtual worlds – Enthusiasm, Experiment and Eclecticism” (digitala virtuella världar) bidrar till att förändra tro och praktik inom kristna kyrkor. Tanken är att sätta in denna förändring i såväl ett historisk som samtida (offline) sammanhang. Abstractet till paperet återfinns just här nedanför:

Churches and Christian representatives have been quite eager to explore the possibilities of modern communication technology – throughout history and today. In the mirror of history it is clear how different technologies have changes religious faith and practices, undermining traditional power structures, giving voice to previously oppressed actors, but also establishing new structures and hierarchies, and hence reshaping the religious landscape. That is what is happening right now through internet based religious practices.

A virtual world such as Second Life is to a large degree a sandbox for experiments – whether it is regarding use of space, sexual identities, new forms of pedagogy … or religious experience. While churches in the physical world often are bound to, and dependent upon, traditions and regional context, churches in virtual worlds have the possibility to stand free from any form of established structures. Anyone can have the initiative to gather a congregation, or to build a church regardless of confessional or denominational boundaries, and decide which way to go, all in line with the participatory culture of internet. From the perspective of churches present in Second Life they see almost limitless opportunities in reaching out to the unreached and at the same time restructure rigid forms or traditional hierarchical churches.

Virtual churches are founded as official digital extension of “real life” churches, or out of purely private initiatives (with or without relations to “reality”). There are churches build as replicas of physical churches, holy spaces with open structures, churches mixing artifacts and rituals from different traditions, and everything in between. Virtual communities are also formed as a countermovement to “real” churches, granting its adherents a safe haven the physical world cannot guarantee.

This paper will discuss and analyse how the medium encourage churches and their representatives to experiment with new forms and formats apt to its visitors, hence restructuring traditional church structures.

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