Archive for October, 2009

Defining points of Rituals

In class on Monday we discussed what we thought features of rituals involved, and discussed Tambiah’s definition of a ritual as well. The class came up with some key words for rituals:

-Order, Communication, Repetition, Relation to Real World, Body/Physical World, Symbolism/Indexical, Relationship to Time/Place, Cultural Context, Acts/Words, and Other Worlds

            Tambiah had some other insights for key words to what a ritual might be as well that we hadn’t thought of, such as:

-Transmission of Information, Participation and Structure

In Grimes’s book I read “Constructing Ritual” by Catherine Bell, and learned even more about defining rituals. Bell especially discusses Geertz’s theory, in which he discusses how the meaningfulness of a ritual can be a cultural phenomenon (27).

I always thought that rituals can bring about cohesiveness to the community (as a feature of a ritual) and so did Geertz. When he wrote about a funeral as a ritual that “failed to function properly…Geertz concludes that the conflict which surfaced at the funeral was a result of a growing discontinuity between the community’s cultural framework of beliefs…’ (29) Not only does this show the importance of a community’s unity, but this also relates back to our class discussion on games and rituals and how perhaps instead of being looked at as winning and losing, it should be looked at as success and failure. Bell says that “Geertz wants to conclude that ritual facilitates change,” (30) but cannot say so because a failed ritual leaves the conflict unresolved.

I agree with Geertz mostly on his thoughts of rituals facilitating change, although I think just because a ritual has failed does not mean that a person or group of people do or does not undergo change, it is just perhaps not the change they were expecting or hoping for. Perhaps someone with OCD fails to wash their hands right away after they visited someone who had a cold, like they always do in that situation, thus the ritual failing. Let’s say they do this ritual for fear of contamination, and that this person with OCD fears that they themselves will get catch that cold. Now let’s say two weeks later, they still haven’t caught a cold, even though that person didn’t wash their hands right away. Perhaps they then went through a change, a realization that their fears won’t always come true if they don’t perform that ritual within a certain amount of time. So, even though the ritual failed, I do not see why one cannot undergo change.


Article Summary for 10.14.09

Diaspora on the Electronic Frontier:  Developing Virtual Connections with Sacred Homelands 

This article describes the beginnings of using the Internet for religious purposes.  The use of the Internet blossomed for religious reasons has ranged from interactive chats, to informational websites to virtual pilgrimages.  One specific use of the Internet has been to connect dispersed people with specific religious practices and environments from their original homeland. As technology has advanced, so has its uses for religious purposes, and it has become more sophisticated on the way. Estimates of the number of websites in 2006 with a religious content outnumbered the number of websites devoted to all aspects of science.  Clearly, this is a significant force that has great potential for those who wish to use it and for those who wish to channel it for specific purposes.

            This article describes the beginning use of the Internet for religious communication (rather than simply information) as occurring through the USENET network in the 1980’s.  Originally part of a larger general group, a number of people petitioned to have their own specialized newsgroup for religious purposes and were granted their own space. However, religious intolerance within different religious groups further led to a separate section for Judaism, and later one for Christianity.  The author views this as the first evidence of displaced people wanting their own religious identity in a place where they could gather from around the world.

             Shortly after this occurrence, a group of Asian students attending school in the U.S. developed an interactive Internet site for anything relating to Indian culture, which included the Hindu religion. Many of the posts regarded religious issues, especially those of people not in the area native to the Hindu religion. Another student group eventually developed two Internet sites specific to the Hindu religion, with the goal of bringing together people from all over the world on this one topic. This last group went beyond the traditional chat function and began posting religious text and scriptures that was requested.

The development of the World Wide Web created an even larger base of websites devoted to religion. Some, such as the Vatican website, were strictly informational and not interactive, though quite in-depth. Others served the purpose of allowing communication by and between many people, in an interactive and personal manner. These latter websites allowed people around the world to discuss religious beliefs and practices. Eventually such websites also began providing this service for people who were not allowed to openly discuss their religions form their homeland while they were in exile (Tibetan Monks) or in non-friendly cultures.

Eventually, the function of many religious websites moved into the area of personal religious practice, and allowed not only connections between people living away from their homeland and place of religious origin, but also allowed for new exchanges between people and new places. Online broadcasting or religious festivals was able to be live. Virtual pilgrimages were now available to a number of destinations.  Such religious sites worked hard to overcome the limitations of such online viewing of the disconnect involved when one cannot actively participate and experience the preparation and hardships involved in such an event. Real-time viewing became available, and virtual visitors were able to sign in and let the other participants know they were there. Some sites allowed Internet participants to leave a prayer petitions that would be used along with all the others in a special service.

In particular, Hindus have developed a particular website in order to connect themselves more obviously with their sacred homeland. People now have the ability to request specific rituals conducted specifically for them in sacred Indian temples. They are able to participate in rituals that were previously only available on specific days if one journeyed to a certain temple. And now, this website sends a CD of the videographed ritual to the online participant, along with other possible verifications of their participation, similar to what would occur if they were actually present in person. A new question though:  are people using the Internet to participate in temple rituals still participating in religious rituals in their new homelands? The article did not have an answer.

The Sacred and the Virtual: Religion in Multi-User Reality

Article Summary for 9.05.09 (COMMUNITY)

This article starts off with an abstract (about what I will be discussing). First, the authors have an introduction; they discuss virtual reality (VR) 3-D worlds on the web that have text boxes that let you talk to other people who are also online at that same time. You are an avatar – basically a 3-D person like the characters that you make on Wii that can move around and interact with each other (through the text boxes). If you would like, there is a website of the Contact Consortium,, which the article says has several different images of  the avatars and their different virtual world systems.

The authors talk in this piece about how religion is expressed through these multi-user virtual worlds that are mainly for socializing. They go on to mention that “the nature and structure of communications have profound social and cultural effects” (p 2). The three authors then talk about the E-Church world (the name has been changed for privacy reasons), which has prayer meetings in a church in one of these 3-D worlds. While there is no physical presence of a community, “graphics, video and sound open up a range of ritual possibilities that may have profound consequences for the symbolic expression of religiousity” (p 2). “Second Life” (which was not in my article, but I wanted to find an example) is one of those VR 3-D worlds that is mainly for socializing, but also has many religious places and things that you can take place in, such as prayer meetings in a church. I looked on the web, and found a video of an avatar touring the many places of worship in the VR world:

The E-Church was one of the first instances in the online 3-D virtual worlds that were directed towards religion/a religious community. The major variation between the E-Church and other more socially oriented VR worlds is the structure – the E-Church is more formal and the other worlds are looser in the way they work. Otherwise, the architecture is the same quality; the E-Church world has several buildings with a suburbia type of landscape, along with a church and some crosses with prayers and announcements. The formal part of the E-Church is (a) that the service is at a certain time on (b) a certain day of the week. Also, (c) the conversations that the avatars have are more restricted to a certain topic (a religious topic) than just a plain social 3-D virtual world and (d) the conversations are held in the same confined setting of the church. Then there is the tightly structured prayer meeting and how it works, which is easily compared to going to a ‘regular’ church.  There is a priest, or one or two leaders who lead the meeting (which is structured like in real life) along with the other participants – known as speakers in this article. Thus, there is a hierarchy taking place, which is another comparison with going to a ‘real’ church meeting.

The E-Church is a more “serious” (p 5) type of community, and because of this, their level of closeness sets them off from other virtual worlds. The E-Church has strength in a common subject that is discussed through regular attendees. However, because of the subject, the church’s weakness is that the followers of the E-Church only know limited things about each other, such as their religious theories, which can make a community less cohesive.

Even though the E-Church is considered ‘more formal’ in their online world, in ‘real life’ the church would be considered less formal. For instance, the E-Church prayer meetings tend to be more open and interactive, and members usually come from/have different traditions. Also, leaders in the E-Church can be women, which priests in ‘real life’ cannot be. What the leader(s) in the E-Church preach, however, often have to do with the group’s emotional commitment; the leader(s) power comes from what he or she speaks of out loud, which seems to have a pattern of religious language and reflects on the bible or ancient creeds. The article goes very in-depth on what the language is that is used and how it is applied. Here is a video of part of a prayer meeting, and the language that is used (again, I used a clip from “Second Life”):

In the E-Church, some of the practices of a conventional church may become different and changed because of the technological advancement. The authors note weaknesses such as these and others: “verbal exchanges become shorter, emotional solidarity with co-participants is weaker, and there is less orderliness to the prayer meetings” (p 11). But the article also states how being technologically advanced has gains: “the virtual church allows for more candid exchanges between participants, it enables a kind of access from all over the world that is not available in conventional services, and it permits experimentation in the use (and prior to that, the design) of the virtual space that is less constrained than a church in the real world” (p 11).

The article also discusses the boundary between public and private and where that line is online. For example, the authors were not sure what text from the E-Church world they were allowed to use in the article – the study of the E-Church and its world had researchers spend time in the E-Church world, so they were able to gain text from conversations, etcetera. However, the authors decided to only quote what was obviously public and available, and tried to disguise the space itself, for privacy reasons. They made this one of their sections in their article.

To end the article, the authors discussed the three elements of which they thought a religious ritual consisted of: “the physical co-presence of people to enhance emotional energy, the ritualization of actions which includes ‘coordinating their gestures and voices’, and a symbolic sacred object that reifies and reinforces the group’s sense of itself” (p12). The authors concurred that the E-Church met all three requirements, although the three elements may not be as explicit and “straightforward” as in a conventional church. Therefore, one may not have the same experiences as a real church, but the E-Church does reproduce the essential features needed.

Intentions of Creators of Games & Limits to What You Can Talk About In Communities

There was one other question that I felt was important that we ended up touching upon in class on Wednesday but I thought it should be its own separate post: What is the difference between a game teaching us to understand how someone ‘sick’ felt, and a game teaching us to act that way? Do people have to have something ‘inherently wrong’ with them to bring the game into the ‘real’ world, like some people blame video games do? I would say absolutely not. Remember our earlier class discussion about ARG’s and finding clues in a newspaper (in the ‘real’ world)? This is my evidence backing up my ‘absolutely not’ statement. Perhaps even in textual narrativity there may be a way/ways that a person will bring the game into the world the person lives in (depending on how much the person identifies with the context of the game/storyline). I am not much of a gamer myself, but if was, I could probably come up with at least a few other examples.

To answer the first question I mentioned in this blog post, no one except the creator of the game knows what the intentions were for making it, although I am sure many of us would be/are curious to know. Some even come up with theories, like how Bogost thought that “JFK Reloaded’s” game design features suggested “that the developers stated goal was a ruse meant to inspire new perspectives on the historical event itself” (“Persuasive Games,” 132-133). I have noticed that many first person shooter games that we have recently discussed in class could have this aspect, or just perhaps being able to gain more perspective on the event which the game was based upon.

In another whole area itself, but still related to the first question about games and intentions, was what we talked about in class for what the army does sometimes for placing people in the field. I found it interesting that the Army uses a certain video game to help place people in the field by logging onto the person’s video game account (with permission) to see his/her stats (what the person was best at versus what the person was worst, or mediocre at). So even though they did not create the game, they used the game for their own intentions, which I think touches on a whole different part that was not addressed in my first question of this blog entry (but does relate). It does seem to me a bit unrealistic to decide what guns people should use based on their stats (because shooting a real gun feels incredibly different than hitting a button on their controller), although I do not see it unrealistic do use people’s stats to log into other abilities, maybe such as aiming, but more so the mentality of different positions people get into to put the person in. However, I do not know exactly what the Army uses for placement options when they look at a certain person’s video game’s statistcs.

I couldn’t decide to put this part last or first, but it got put in the end of this blog, but either way I feel it appropriate to discuss this since we have been on the unit of communities. Some communities in cyberspace are more formal, like religious prayer groups when they might meet in a chat room, per say, versus writing on your best friend’s Facebook wall about all the fun they had that Friday night when they went out partying. The same applies to real life communities. But either way, when you are having a discussion of some sort, I feel you should think about what you say/the way you say certain things and always be aware because it might offend people. I think communities grow closer and more together this way. Of course, depending on the setting and situation depends on how open you can/should be (formal versus informal), but either way, respecting boundaries makes a group/community more cohesive, in any ‘world.’

Games Changing Perceptions, and Spilling Over Into One’s Cosmos

On Wednesday in class, we proposed many issues and discussed many subjects on community, one of the more important questions (I felt) being: What blurs the line between games and real life/where is the line blurred? We pondered that one for a while.

We talked about how Victor Turner says that you can enter into this ‘space,’ you perform a ritual, or perhaps maybe a right of passage of some sort, and then you come out of the ‘space’ changed. What I found most intriguing was that whatever you did in that ‘space,’ it would spill over into all other aspects of your life. We discussed this in other words in class by saying that your new perspective would then expand into the rest of the cosmos.

We also discussed the “magic circle (of play)”  where there is no spillover into the cosmos because you go into the space knowing that it is just a game, so therefore you will come out of that ‘space’ after the ritual (or whatever else it may be) unchanged (because you already knew that it was just a game).

Liz came up with yet another theory of the “magic circle,” her own version of a meta-culture type of circle, but I would like to focus on Turner’s attitude out of these three ideas in this entry. There are some unsettling games that have been created such as “Christ Killa,” where the whole point of the game is to go around killing all the different Jesus’s. The first person shooter goes around shouting, “Wake up, Jesus! It’s time to die!” What kind of change might this game provoke? I supposed it depends upon the person; the change for a very religious Roman Catholic might be coming out of the ‘space’ with extreme disgust or anger, or the change might make an individual think it is okay to go around killing.

How does this spill over into one’s cosmos? Again, the spillover could occur in many ways, depending upon that person’s perception of the game. In class we played “V-Tech Rampage,” and the change that I came out with was me needing to think harder about why people would make such games. Liz had some insight to one of the games we discussed; apparently “Super Columbine Massacre RPG” was made specifically to be a first person shooter game, perhaps so one could see what the Columbine shooting was like from a different perspective to gain different insight(s). Yes, it is true that I probably do no share the same feelings and emotions as the shooter I am playing, but that does not mean I cannot gain a new or more in-depth outlook on the situation.

I feel I have a lot to say about Wednesday’s discussion and I feel I have written plenty to think about in this entry as it is. Therefore I am going to write another separate post addressing another question that I felt was also one of the more important subjects we discussed. (That way this post doesn’t get too bogged down and will hopefully be easier to read.)