Religious communities tie together people and groups of people based on shared ideas, beliefs, traditions and/or values. The scope of such communities varies from local congregations to so called world religions. Parts of such communities are physical, with rules and regulations (tax arrangements, calendar, etc) and with notable consequences for the individual deviating from the group’s norm of ideas or conduct, such as penalties, ostracism, or worse. Other parts of religious communities are imagined, whether it is with never seen individuals sharing one’s particular religion on the other hemisphere, or transcending time borders with all one’s fellow believers/practitioners past and future. These aspects of physical and imagined communities have been analyzed at length in disciplines such as theology, history, sociology, ethnology, and anthropology.
During the last few decades a new intermediate form of religious community has come into existence, virtual worship, i. e. individuals connecting virtually on the Internet, shaping their religious community in accordance with the technical possibilities presented, and representing themselves in a three-dimensional virtual world as avatars. The format of the Internet allows for transgression of geographical distances, but not of time (except in the sense that the simultaneous Internet users have different time), thus allowing for a global religious community.
The paper analyzes four aspects of this new kind of global community from a sociology of religion perspective, (1) the impact of the technical format on the life of virtual religious communities, (2) the use by physical religious communities of virtual complementary additions to their physical activity, (3) effects on individuals’ physical religious activities by virtual participation, and (4) effects on organizations’ development by virtual worship.
Global Communities – Transnational and Transdisciplinary Exchanges, Växjö, October 29-30, 2012.