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Archive for September 2010

Ethnography in the Virtual World, the Virtual Body and “Being Different”

by Riannon Clarke


On Wednesday, Greg Grieve, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, encouraged those interested in virtual-world ethnography to “Be Different.” He outlined a theoretical framework for his several-year research in Second Life that provides an explanation for the possibility of immersion in virtual worlds, a crucial aspect of participant-observation ethnography. Network analysis or simply “lurking” on communities in the online world are decidedly unworkable ways to arrive at the “thick description” most ethnographers still strive to provide in their discussion of cultures. Instead of static websites, one must interact with, and become immersed in a virtual social space.  If one abides by the requirements of theorists such as Tom Boellstorff, a certain sensorial realism must be present in the virtual space for the subject to become engaged, while Alex Golub emphasizes the performance of shared projects, such as World of Warcraft raids, as critical to fostering deep immersion. Grieve added a new dimension to the discussion by, almost ironically, ushering in a discussion of the body.  But is this so ironic? Rather than arriving at a definitive place, Greg’s discussion led us to consider some of the productive differences that a discourse of body, as opposed to simply terminology such as “identity,” provides in the analysis of Second Life immersion.

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Learning and Doing Virtual Ethnography While You Are Winking in the fluid world of Second Life.

by Mohammad T. Abbasi Shavazi

We had the great opportunity to attend the Summer School „How virtual is Reality“ at the Jacobs University Bremen. One of the most interesting teaching units of the summer school was Ethnography in Fluid World by Gregory Price Grieve,  who is associate professor of Religious Studies and the Director of MERGE: A Network for Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is researching and teaching in the intersection of South Asian religions, New Media, and postmodern and pluralistic approaches to the study of religion. One of the apparent signs which indicate he is a ready to write ethnographer (one of the basic and important skills in ethnography) is that you can see a pencil behind his ear! often. Weiterlesen …

Methods of Network Analysis – Exercises

23.09.2010 Kommentare aus

by Katharina Schubert


According to the summer school´s Book of Abstracts Dr. Martin Engelbrecht wanted to introduce the concept of „network analysis:

The internet has become a significant medium both for spiritual and religious discourses and for the networks that actually hold these discourses.Thanks to the options provided by the net even the scattered members of tiny and poorly structured groups, movements or even trends can organize themselves and their discourses much more effectively than ever before. This has a profound effect on the dynamics of social developments in the area of spirituality and religion.
(See also Martin Engelbrecht, Netzwerke religiöser Menschen, 2006)

So what is is all about it and what did we actually do?
After the introduction of the theory in the morning we started the exercise session after lunch. For this we divided into three smaller  groups to attend to the exercises Martin Engelbrecht gave us.

The task was: Try to produce a rough sketch of the networks involved in the discourses based on their respective positions in the discourse. Choose one of the discourses:

  1. “Keep your shirt on!” Or: Sex in Evangelicalism
  2. “Was Dino really a pet of Cain and Abel?” Or: Creationism vs. the Theory of Evolution
  3. “Can I have a Canadian as a slave?” Or: How to deal with the ‚Word of God‘

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“Methods of Visual Culture”

22.09.2010 Kommentare aus

by Nelu Vasilica

David Morgan’s public lecture on material religion provided the base for the next day “Methods of the study of visual culture: the structure of the visual field” teaching unit. Structured into two main parts, theoretical and practical, the “Visual culture” lecture  emphasised the possible  approaches in interpreting images from various visual fields, but did not provide a step by step methodology in terms of image analysis.

The introduction of the theoretical part highlighted the importance of different viewers perspectives and the images referents, followed by a clear definition of a gaze and its role in visual culture. According to Morgan, a gaze represents “a visual field that configures presence and absence, visibility and invisibility, along horizontal and vertical axes mediated by an image or object.” With regards to the gaze applicability, the most  conclusive  description was depicted in the following affirmation: “A gaze makes some things visible (present) while rendering others invisible (absent).“(Morgan’s presentation slides). The introduction was followed by a gaze classification, encompassed  by images and  short explanations. Morgan presented eight gaze categories: reciprocal, unilateral, occlusive, fun, disinterested, liminal, communal and virtual. Reciprocal gazes are common in most religions which approve images in their rituals such as: Hinduism or Christianity. Nevertheless, unlike in the case of areciprocal gaze between two or more human beings, this reciprocal gaze based on religious icons is highly dependent on the supplicant. In the case of unilateral gazes it can be observed a sort of one way communication in which  the ratio powerful-less powerful is the core of this representation. It could be assumed this type of images have a similar meaning as the human consciousness, sometimes associated with the voice of God in humans. This assumption might be related to Morgan   affirmation(„I think I owe him something“) on the image depicting a child with a malformed mouth. The occlusive gaze combines the reciprocal and unilateral categories with the mentioning that  the image is perceived in the same manner by both, referent and viewer. In order to emphasise the occlusive gaze, Morgan presented a Lutheran visual representation of Christ crucifixion in which God and sinner are both satisfied.

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How virtual are ghosts?

by Britta Rensing

As Jan couldn’get much out of the lecture on Sunday morning which was given to the group by Peter Bräunlein I will give a short report.

Asian ghost movies

In the perspective of the enlightenment the belief in spirits and ghosts is seen as being pure superstition. Adorno, who thought of superstition as an obstacle to enlightenment, claimed to get rid of it as to him “the disenchantment of the world means the extirpatation of animism” (Adorno/Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. 2002, 2). So how is it possible that so many postmodern ‘enlightened’ people are increasingly taking stock in ghost movies, especially Asian ghost movies?
When in 1987 the film “A Chinese Ghost Story” was released, it had an enormous impact on the horror film genre. The story included demons and fights, was a mixture of eastern and fantasy, of martial arts and horror, set in ancient China. The historical model for this kind of movie, which from then on has made a lively public appearance can be seen in the 14th century Wuxia novel tradition dealing with adventure stories of knights and the supernatural. One example is the story of “The Marshes of Mount Liang”, which in East Asia was also trasmitted via cartoons and films. Wuxia films date back to the Hong Kong cinema of the 1920s (Shaw Brothers Studio) and got even more popular in the 1960s and 1970s. The Wuxia films in the Hongkong cinema combined thriller, horror and mystery elements, and were also successful in Europe and the United States.

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Islamic websites – religion online or online religion?

After getting firm with Christopher Hellands contrary concepts of “online religion”, with a high level of interactivity and freedom, and “religion online”, just providing information without interaction, we had the possibility to apply this categorization to some websites.

In our lecture about “The Role of individual and Community. Web 2.0 and the Rise of a New Form of Religious Community” by Hans G. Kippenberg we talked about some Islamic activities in the Internet. He started with the idea of subnationalization, the establishment of cultural enclaves below the national level, which are driven by religious associations and authorities. These communities come together through medial communication, which is the base for their social existence. They also adopt internet-based communication like WWwebsites, which is used in a very different way due to technically founded characteristics: the nearly unlimited international availability. On the base of maslaha (“public interest”), a traditional concept of the Sharia, these websites establish an Islamism that claims a strong Islam in the public realm. This discourse is focused on practical considerations of public welfare and social justice.


A person who is very strong in this discourse is Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The Islamic scholar living in Qatar is a very influential authority for Sunni Islam and his comments are well-known from TV-broadcasts and top-selling book publications. Furthermore, he is running the Islamic website islamonline.net, which is very popular within the transnational Islam. Even if this scholar is known for his conservative statements according to Islamic law, his positioning to new media is very liberal. The working group, which was checking his (not longer available) online-declaration for islamonline.net, found out that he judges the utilization of WWW as a possibility to get in contact with scholars all over the world. It would be important to release knowledge online for giving it to a wider community. That is also the reason why the website is available not only in Arabic, but also in English.

The idea of online fatwa – a religious question about how to act or what is right and wrong in a special situation – is very common in this sort of online environment. A religious authority, or rather someone who presents himself as being so, will answer online to these fatwas and – if his authority is also accepted – have some influence on the users of these fatwa-websites. One of our groups was intensively dealing with these online fatwas and found that is has some useful advantages: There is a very direct link between the believer and the expert, which can reduce the distance between the religion of authorities and the everyday religion.

The last group dealt with problematic circumstances emerging during the research within Islamic websites. They tried to follow some references made in the scientific text about the „Islamic Legitimacy for the London Bombings” of 2005. Unfortunately, most of the Islamic websites didn’t offer any English version – you should be able to read Arabic not only for understanding the offline texts but also for the online sources. Additionally, many links were dead and couldn’t be reconstructed with helping tools of the “never-forgetting” internet, like The Internet Archive or Google Cache. The availability was especially bad for those websites who represented opinions supporting the bombings as lawful Islamic fight. Links to websites declining the Islamic acceptance of the bombings were more likely to be available after years.

Religion in Virtual Worlds. A Historical Overview on a New Research Topic

by Nadine Gremmers

Our second “Summer School” day started with the lecture “Religion in Virtual Worlds. A Historical Overview on a New Research Topic.” by Kerstin Radde-Antweiler and Simone Heidbrink. The referents discussed the following points:

1. “Reality” versus “Virtuality”? How would the participants of the “Summer School” define these two terms and their relation to each other?

2. Virtual World: Conceptions and Definitions.

3. The history of various Virtual Worlds: An Overview of so called “Life Sims” and “MMORPGs”.

4. Case Studies and methods.

At the beginning of the lecture, participants should define “Reality” and “Virtuality”, which led to the following assumptions:

– “Reality” and “Virtuality” are interdependent, but exhibit different characteristics.

– “Reality” = “real life” – “Virtuality” pretends to be “real life” (was designated as main discourse).

– In “Reality” you have a limited mass of possibilities. In “Virtuality” you have an unlimited mass of possibilities.

– “Reality”: Perception with all senses possible – “Virtuality”: Perception only with some senses possible.

– “Reality” = experience of what is out here − “Virtuality” = representation of what is out here

– “Reality”: “Ownership” of a physical body − “Virtuality”: “Ownership” of an Avatar

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