Isn’t It Real?: Experiencing the Virtual Church in Second Life®

Isn’t It Real?: Experiencing the Virtual Church in Second Life®

Emil R. Kaburuan, Chien-Hsu Chen, Tay-Sheng Jeng
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-762-3.ch014
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The growing numbers of online religion practice has increased significantly. This growing number is not only based on the website pattern, but also in the 3D online virtual environment. Over the last three years the practice of online churchgoing in the 3D virtual environment has grown rapidly through the arrival of a number of large, well-financed projects supported by well-known real-world Christian groups. This phenomenon has been allowing users not only just participate but also experiencing the online virtual environment. What are the users’ experiences in the virtual church? How does this experience relate to users’ spiritual life? These issues will be discussed in this chapter, starting with origin of online church. This is followed by the description of the one year study result based on participant observation and interview with the participants. The ability of Second Life as user generated virtual environment to act as medium of ritual practice and kinds of experience fostered will be interesting in the future development of the online church. The empirical based study may contribute greatly to a more nuanced and balanced understanding.
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Online religion practice, however dominated by Christianity, but there are other beliefs also present such as; Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist (Helland, 2004). There are several studies on the online religion have been conducted, included: Christian (Campbell, 2004; Casey, 2006; Hutchings, 2007; Young, 2004), Islam (Bunt, 2004; Kalinock, 2006), Sikhism (Jakobsh, 2006) and Buddhist (Macwilliams, 2006; Prebish, 2004). Online religious activities was started from mis-1980s as David Lochhead mentioned in his book Shifting Realities (Lochhead, 1997). It began with the use of local bulletin board systems (BBSs) to create ‘not only a discussion forum for local evangelicals but also an outreach to non-Christians who might happen to call’ (Lochhead, 1997). Howard Rheingold in his book entitled The Virtual Community also notes the existence of such groups:

It didn't take me long to discover there isn't enough time in the day to keep up with what is happening in religious BBSs of the San Francisco Bay area. Some are connected with real-life congregations; others are free-form and come in sixteen shades of unorthodox. The role of communications media in shaping religion has been central since the time…., where coreligionists can find each other, stay in touch between services, and even commune in traditional ways via nontraditional media (Rheingold, 1993).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Religion: It is referred to the online activities which related to the religion practice. This could be a website, forum, chatting, and 3D environment.

Virtual Second Life Church: It is referred to the virtual church inside the Second Life

Online Congregation: It is referred to members of the online church.

Online Church: It is referred to the online service provided by a church. Most online church offer video or streaming for their service.

Users’ Experience: It is referred to the quality of the users when they are interacting with a specific design.

Virtual Church: It is referred to the site or virtual place which being used as church. This could be web based or 3D virtual environment.

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