Friday, October 7, 2011

Religious Rituals and the Internet: Reflections on Christopher Helland's Talk

Throughout the presentation given by Christopher Helland, we were introduced to several themes relating to the topic of ritualism. The first was the definition of a ritual. By definition, a ritual is simply “personal engagement with the sacred.” I believe that there were many interesting aspects to Christopher Helland’s talk about ritualism. Along with his definition of “rituals”, I thought it was very interesting how he laid out the development of our digital culture over the last ten to twenty years. One of the most striking points made by Mr. Helland was that the Internet originally started as a mere four modes and is now billions upon billions of modes in size. Another intriguing point is how there is no longer a dividing line between our real lives and our lives online. Though I do not completely agree with the stance, I believe that our society is ushering itself more and more into this alternate form of reality. According to Mr. Helland, there are many forms of rituals. Let’s list a few: divination, therapy, anti-therapy, initiation, and now, the Internet.

Along with Mr. Helland’s stance on virtual rituals, I was very fascinated by how countless people of many different religious backgrounds are now worshipping online. At first, I was taken aback by how people could step into a Muslim mosque in Second Life, or how those of the Jewish faith could go into a synagogue in a virtual, online world. But now, looking back, I myself am beginning to wonder, “Could this be the new direction in which the whole world begins to worship?” My gut instinct tells me that this will not be the case, as I personally have always believed that the sacred and the religious always go hand-in-hand with face-to-face, real life relationships which I believe cannot be duplicated via virtual reality.

As for now, I still stand behind this view that online worship still has many superficial aspects to it. But I must acknowledge the fact that Mr. Helland’s talk was very persuasive and interesting in the realm of virtual worship, which only leads me to research this topic more in the days ahead.

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