The Future of Religion?

The two-day conference, The Future of Religions/Religions of the Future ran from 4-5 June 2008 on the two islands of Extropia and Al-Andalus, and was an examination of how religion and technology continue to re-shape each other. There were eleven presenters, different voices, spread across the two days the conference ran.

Extropia is a community dedicated to a vision of a better future, made possible through technology but not to espouse ideologies or impose beliefs. They partnered with The Al-Andalus Project for this conference in order to collaborate to share views, experiences and best practices.

Is religion making a comeback?

The conference was never intended to address complex issues surrounding religion, but in its exploration of it, it acknowledged that religion remains important today – although some people may choose to practice their faith in different and innovative ways.

William Sims Bainbridge started the conference, speaking sentences through his hat and belt edited from two books he published last year. He explained that, in his view, avatars have spiritual potential, with the word “avatar” itself, coming from Hindu religion. His talk to the audience at the conference was intended to reflect chaos, indeterminacy and ambiguity.

“Hat: The decline of religion could be harmful for individual human beings”.

“Belt: Through confusion comes clarity”.

Helen Farley, explained that Second Life provides an opportunity for people to interact in innovative ways, and the avatars that populate Second Life take their name from the Sanskrit word, which in Hindu mythology means ‘the descent of a deity to earth in a visible form’. For Farley, citing the work of Ross McKerlich and Terry Anderson, the immersive environment of virtual worlds such as Second Life, offer enhanced presence – The feeling of being in the moment.

Lincoln Cannon spoke on Mormonism as a religion of the future. According to Cannon, Mormons in Second Life are running a thriving community, consisting of 600 members and six islands. They are by nature, innovators, embracing the online community experience as a whole. Robert Geraci explained his view that centuries of disenchantment had left Western culture with a search for transcendence and online games had become a major arena for that quests fulfillment.

Mohammed Yahia discussed the experiences involved in bringing religion into Second Life and, the merits of being able to reach a new audience by delivering messages and stories in a completely new way – creating strong communities and offering diversity. Madeline Klink, discussed her experiences of being a scholar and a researcher in Second Life, and explained that, unlike in real life, where some people may not have thought about the meaning of their practice, most people engaged in religious practice in Second Life have had to put serious thought into what they are doing.

Tom Boellstorff described his view on “lag”, as something that happens when actual-world time intrudes on virtual life effecting presence and immersion. Andrew Wallace presented an argument that the evidence we have for religion show religion as a human construct, and speculated that the form of religion in society will take on a number of different forms. For Giulio Prisco, today’s world is a complex interconnected and difficult place, and will become even more so. There is a need for a vision of humanity that can energize all people and provide the drive to move forward as a whole.

James J Hughes discussed those that see digitizing consciousness as impossible, because of the intangible soul – There is no reason why digitizing is immoral, he stated, but for them it does not capture the supernatural substance idea of the soul. Finally, there was Edward Lee Lamoureux, whose early observations in Second Life revealed an issue of motive in some instances, where the religious gathering of an audience could sometimes be used to progress other commercial ventures that did not represent the religion itself.

The first day was attended by 60 people; the second was attended by 30. Many of which got involved in the question and answer sessions at the end of each presentation and listened intently with genuine interest to each individual speaker in a manner which was a refreshing contrast to the overtly sexualized and commercial aspects of virtual living.

Josephina Bonetto

Written: 8 June 2008

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