Friday, October 7, 2011

Christopher Hellend: Religious Ritual and Internet

I had the pleasure of listening to Christopher Hellend's discussion over Religious Ritual and New Media. New Media and religion have found themselves intertwined, and a clear representation of this, Hellend mentions, is the fact that Religious Rituals are actually taking place online. He also talked about how many definitions there are of rituals, spanning from very specific to very vague meanings. Hellend's definition of ritual was very simple: Purposeful engagement with the sacred (whatever sacred may be to that individual). It has also been described as a way to connect with the supernatural in a social context.
As far as rituals online, Hellend says that observers argue whether they are successful. However, the ones who are actually involved in the rituals online claim that they actually do function well. One thing that I found very interesting was the distinction between rituals online and online rituals. Rituals online are defined as prescripts, ritual texts, and material about rituals that can be found online. Online rituals consists of rituals that are actually performed in virtual space. To my surprise, the statistic of people who interact in online rituals are still very low, but Hellend believes that it will increase in time. He spoke of the obstacles that these online rituals are facing by talking about the Church of Fools. This was an online church where people could actually create an avatar and take place in online rituals. However, people started entering the virtual church simply to cause problems and act out of line. They implemented wardens to boot those people offline in order to keep the church as what it is intended to be... A sacred place. There are many who debate on whether an online church can ever be considered "sacred",  and Hellend brought up an excellent point defending this matter. He compared online churches to regular, mortar and brick churches in saying that both are man made constructions that allow for interaction and fellowship, neither are inherently sacred. He argued that what makes a man-made church sacred is the ritual taking place, and that same idea should be applied to virtual churches online.

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