Virtual Buddhism: An Analysis of Aesthetics in Relation to Religious Practice within Second Life

Louise Connelly

Abstract


Up to this point the majority of studies on religion and the internet has focused on Christianity (Campbell: 2007), Islam (Bunt: 2001, 2003) or identity (Turkle: 1995) and there has been very little attention surrounding Buddhism and the internet.

This article will focus on the analysis of the senses in relation to religious practice undertaken by avatars visiting the Buddha Centre within Second Life. I will examine two interconnected aspects; the virtual environment and the senses. I will illustrate and consider why the aesthetics of the virtual environment imitates the offline environment. Furthermore, I will demonstrate that the virtual environment provides not only a rich visual and aural experience but also includes the sense of virtual touch, thus capturing three of the five senses within online religious practice.

I will use an inter-disciplinary methodology including ethnography and visual analysis to examine the sensory practice in Second Life. Accordingly, the analysis of virtual touch, sight and sound in relation to religious practice within the Buddhist temple, art gallery and its surroundings will be situated within the field of religion, media and culture.

In conclusion, I will assert that there is a need for further investigation of Buddhism online and that the study of the senses online should include not only the aural and visual but also virtual touch, thus reflecting further on the embodied virtual sensory experience. This article will, therefore, provide an innovative approach and contribution to the study of Buddhism and the senses online.

Keywords


senses , internet , virtual worlds , Buddhism , Second Life

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11588/rel.2010.1.9383