Tabernacle in the Wilderness: Hierophany in Virtual Space.

How do virtual spaces facilitate a manifestation of the 'sacred'? After moving to Berlin last fall I came into contact with Second Life for the first time through this course. Encouraged to explore the islands of Second Life my avatar 'appeared' and clumsily 'traveled' through elaborate worlds created for a myriad of virtual activities. Perhaps it was homesickness or the fact that often when in placed in a new environment we tend to congregate around what is already familiar to us, I found and teleported to a reproduced version of the main city square down the street from my previous apartment in Salt Lake City, Utah. A bit kitsch or maybe touching for someone dealing with a grey, cold winter away from the family, mountains and his city. The architecture of a particular open religious building on the square was impeccably recreated down to the carpet color and number of seats. I am not religious or even spiritual but I felt the longing and satisfaction for the familiar quite strongly at that moment.1 The recreated virtual reality of the building gave license for feelings that transcended my temporal space of sitting at a laptop in Berlin. I felt nostalgic for my own culture, despite the fact I've pushed against it nearly my entire life. I was intrigued by the power of virtually representing the physical and familiar, and how it can facilitate such an emotion. In this paper I explore the arena of such feelings while online, but within a decidedly religious context. I begin with a cursory background in religious theory, prefacing the effect of replicated and designated space used in religious practice online. SACRED & PROFANE DURKHEIM The work of French sociologist David Émile Durkheim aimed to identify the function and genesis of religion as a unifying social practice. Examining aspects of various religious traditions that could be investigated together, Durkheim searched for the social powers of religion that surpass the ideas of God and spirituality. “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, i.e., things set apart and forbidden-beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them” (Durkheim 1915:47).2


The Salt Lake Tabernacle was completed in 1867. I personally recognize the structure as a cultural hub and note my ancestors were among the builders. What struck me was the similarity of emotions of visiting the space in RL as I was experienced in 2L. This work by Durkheim is available, translated into English in its entirety at

thus over time creating and cementing a division between the sacred (ideal and transcendental) and everyday life (material world). Durkheim concentrated on the concept of the sacred. which is a less limiting version of theophany.. Theophany:(Manifestation of God) Eliade. He considered the origin of what was 'sacred' about an object. humanity simply designates what is sacred. for the organization and social institution of religion. must reveal itself. moral forces.5 to signify a manifestation of <http://archive. ‘sacred’. and the moral community (Allan 2005:116). especially in a sacred place. Durkheim's stance was of a social construction bent. memory and hopes of a group interacting together rather than being a mythical manifestation.. “. The Sacred and the Profane. The activity. which does not require the type of “hierophanic4” manifestation that Eliade does.... Hierophany: (Greek. or in other words the profane (Durkheim 1915:39). place or ritual to be a byproduct of the “collective effervescence” (Durkheim 1915:226) of the religious group. This sacred-profane dichotomy is a major frame work in the approach of Durkheim as well as other theorists. emotions and traditions pertaining to the sacred were repeated. of World Religions. rituals. p. or occasion. that is to say. Understanding the sacred world to exist and be inherent in objects. defining it as “. This is fundamentally different from Durkheim's understanding. See Coleman and White in works cited.3 ELIADE Romanian theorist and writer Mircea Eliade continued in this vein and essentially popularized Durkheim's classification of the sacred-profane dichotomy. . society or culture involved.. However Eliade fundamentally disagreed in regards to the process through which something is or becomes sacred. thereby designating what constitutes “sacred space” (Walker 2010).simply collective ideals that have fixed themselves on material objects. Seth Walker succinctly packages the difference between the two and introduces Eliade's signature term 'hierophany'. etc. object. beliefs and practices.20–22. rituals. and not of sensations coming from the physical world” (Lukes1985:25).the are only collective forces hypostasized.Oxford Dict. they are made up of the ideas and sentiments awakened in us by the spectacle of society. the sacred. spaces.. + phainein. The manifestation of the divine or the sacred. ‘to show’).org/stream/elementaryformso00durk#page/n5/mode/2up> 3 4 5 It is important to note that Durkheim's claim for the sacred-profane dichotomy to be universally applicable across all religion has received critique in recent years.the understanding that Eliade has of sacred space reflects his notion of the sacred: it inherently exists and. Eliade uses the term hierophany. hieros..Durkheim boiled down religious practice to three concepts. Durkheim considered the sacred nature to be superimposed on the object through synergy of the emotions. thus.

. Eliade continued that the profane world has no direction or meaning. spaces or customs purposely replicated online. and live transmission of religious events. no orientation [is] given by virtue of its inherent structure.the sacred. belief of inherent sacredness and the eternal return appeared to exist among those I interviewed. a center” (Eliade 1959:21). See Eliade 1990 in works cited. refers to religious groups or cultures which have created unique platforms. Eliade describes this as eternal return. which may shed light on his theory of hierophany is available in his autobiography. A VIRTUAL HIEROPHANY In organizing the factors that either encourage hierophanies in virtual worlds. Comparing and understanding Eliade and Durkheim regarding the sacred and profane is extremely valuable specifically because they fundamentally differ. refers to live webcams of holy or sacred sites. opposed to the non-reality of the vast surrounding expanse" (Eliade 1959:21-22). A hierophany amounts to a "revelation of an absolute reality. 6 An interesting background account from Eliade's childhood. thus aligning with secular and contemporary social science. (1) Simulation refers to religious physical structures. sacredness and religious experience among believers to be understood on like terms. The sacred space and its manifestations (hierophanies) therefore qualify and establish an “absolute fixed point. In a hierophanic or spiritual experience. At the site and moment of a hierophany an individual or group is then a contemporary part of its collective myth as well as the “mythical age” of the sacred world. it merely exists. I gathered interviews from those identifying themselves as believers. facilitating the examination of spirituality. spaces or applications for religious purposes online. Thus. 6 In the foreword to the 2004 Princeton University Press edition of Eliade's book. I noticed that among other aspects of religiosity. with scientific vocabulary. With the theories of both Durkheim and Eliade in mind. (3) Creation. (2) Transmission. profane space gives man no pattern for his behavior. Therefore. Shamanism. the site of a hierophany has a sacred structure to which religious man conforms himself. I have separated the research sites into three categories. In my research for this paper and video. myths and rituals will be repeated in attempts to elicit a hierophany in order to regain contact with the mythical age. hence. the true reality and purpose of life reveals itself as the barrier separating the profane and sacred is breached. a breach in the profane material world through which life and the lived experience are ontologically founded (Eliade 1959:21). Durkheim offers social construction as the chassis to understand the sacred. “The "profane" space of nonreligious experience can only be divided up geometrically: it has no "qualitative differentiation and. Eliade's theory explains a hierophany which is an incredibly important aspect of religious experience. In contrast to profane space. Wendy Doniger writes that Eliade's theory regarding the eternal return “has become a truism in the study of religions” (Doniger 2004).

and the Washington D. signs with web addresses and hyperlinks to official church websites are across the island. the Spirit came and calmed us all . a couple of evangelical christians came Skyler Goode: they brought all the usual objections to our faith Skyler Goode: it was starting to get a bit heated .C. In addition to another structure replicating a traditional Mormon meetinghouse. Temple standing atop a central hill. On the square is the Temple. Skyler Goode: one man has been coming every day for the past month.was threatening her if she ever had anything to do with the church again Skyler Goode: this was the only way she could Skyler Goode: some members are too distant from meetinghouses for regular church attendance Skyler Goode: i wish we could do more for them From his own experience on the site.not a member . etc. The Sim is a Mormon themed community. Tabernacle. Utah. with replicated structures from Temple Square in Salt Lake City7. he shared an experience when members of an evangelical church came to the site. Prior to his Second Life activity he suffered neurological damage as a result of bipolar disorder and was on disability with his days consisting of television and medicine. comforted. Skyler the end. I talked with Skyler about why he built these structures and whether he believes they can facilitate hierophanies. . we parted friends Skyler Goode: they understood more about why we believe the way we do Skyler Goode: forging friendships is more important to us than winning arguments miguelitoterry: What do you attribute that to? Skyler Goode: I'm still a bit puzzled about that Skyler Goode: but the Holy Spirit can be like that Our conversation progressed to his real life. peaceful. an island created by Keith Thompson.SIMULATION The avatar of a curly blonde haired boy in jean shorts.? Skyler B Goode: Yes . He shared that his involvement on Second Life had greatly increased his spirituality. Joseph Smith Memorial Building and Memorial Hall of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).i was close to asking them to leave Skyler Goode: then something happened. a. Keith Thompson's life. he will sit in the meetinghouse model Skyler Goode: he is a member of the church who is going thru a bad time right now Skyler Goode: then we had one lady come for awhile who's husband .k. and swings his legs as I walk up to him for an interview. Skyler Goode: i found a way to share my very strong faith 7 Temple Square is a 10 acre square city block in downtown Salt Lake City.a. miguelitoterry: Have there been any experiences that have been shared with you regarding how others feel here on this Sim. he said. converse tennis shoes and a striped shirt sits at the welcome center of the Sim Adam Ondi Ahman. The island is not directly affiliated with the Mormon church and is reported to have over 1000 members from 30 different countries. Skyler Goode: not too long ago. Claiming that activity in creating and maintaing the island empowered and offered meaning to his life. Church Office Building.we have spiritual experiences here all the time Skyler Goode: many come just to sit and listen to our music miguelitoterry: could you give me an example? you don't need to give me names or anything.

as Derrickson writes. This corroborates that these sites.Skyler Goode: to be part of what the Lord is doing in our time to prepare this world for His Second coming Skyler Goode: the strength i found here has bled over into RL Skyler Goode: and i'm now the ward clerk for our congregation and a temple worker Skyler Goode: oh . the occurrence of such experiences are partially attributed to the mere replication of existing physical structures. there was nothing inside but a stone floor.”9 8 9 Interview in March 2012 at Adam Ondi Ahman.and i haven’t watched TV in the last 5 years :). TRANSMISSION Rivkah Elishva Kazor said: am 20 July 2010 om 19:40 “I found your website and within seconds my whole soul and body was reverberating with the holy sounds of the early morning risers davening shacaris. Second Life. because both object and referent are within the virtual world. do not cease to be treated as sacred simply because they are virtually mediated (Derrickson 2008). All comments were collected from> . cultural objects are not divorced from their referents. after the fast and yet to be experiencing a little bit of kedusha from Eretz Israel. The structure is merely part of Jerusalem. in the Israeli variation. Tobias Becker writes that while the Dome of the Rock in the Muslim oriented Sim is rich in decoration and a reflection of its actual appearance as a holy site. At the Blue Mosque Sim flying is disabled. I really got goosebumps to be here in North America. Citing Boelstorff. which are simultaneously reflected and loaded in architectural contexts. “In virtual worlds. the intended nature of the space and corresponding architecture is immediately seen in the regulation of certain behaviors. These static structures. have created a referential space of sacredness and culture. do have the same meaning in the virtual world. Referring to these Sims as “detailed reconstructions of spiritually-charged physical loci” (Derrickson 2008). not a holy site (Becker 2011: 5). I had headphones on so it made it that much more personal. Accessed in March 2012. “This assumption means that political circumstances [or cultural ones in the case of Adam Ondi Ahman] in the actual world . visitors are asked to remove their shoes. <'s Western Wall webcam page.” (Becker 2011:5) Looking toward Sim representations of the Chebi Mosque and the Blue Mosque on Second Life are additional examples of architecture collaborating with the user to provide the arena for spiritual experience.” (Boelstorff 2008:243) Becker continues.8 Noting that there are not any services or rituals held on the Sim. which do not in any way serve the same purpose as their physical counterparts. Comparing replications of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock between Palestinian and Israeli Sims.neverbesilent. At the Chebi Mosque Sim. Thanks for this.

the activities. the live transmission from the wall evokes a likeness between virtual and physical visits. and has been for many years. NeverBeSilent. comments are typed out in prayer form. My grandpa was fortunate enough to visit this live in well as that thought process of writing something and putting it into the wall.. until then. Corresponding to the common physical activity at the Western Wall of leaning towards the wall and praying. UREM.. He is with the Lord. Caroline Baldwin said: am 22 October 2009 om 11:30 “Blessings from the United states to Jerusalem! Blessings to all the people on the webcam today at the wall! It makes me so happy to be able to see hundreds of miles away to blessed Jerusalem! What a century we live in where this is capable! Many people in our past died making pilgrimages to do what takes me a second to do! One day maybe I too will visit the wall in person. Jared Gimbal offers both counter and opportunity for virtual transmission of the wall. Two younger individuals.. Poland. while still proving to have spiritualistic value.” Szalom!” Guide at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow. March 2012. 10 Interview with I felt that it was an experience of the senses. become more symbolic in online modes. but it would bring great joy to him to know all who wished to view this live now have the opportunity”..”10 If the religious ritual requires a physical act like placing a note between stones. a pro-Jewish. Pawel said: am 25 March 2010 om 12:06 “God bless Israel! I’ll pray for you… “HOSZAIA ET AMECHA. . UWARECH ET NAHA LA TE HA. black shapes stand facing the wall as walkers of various speed pass the ebbing crowd in the foreground.. UREM WE NASEM UREM WE NASEM AD HA OLAM. there is this wonderful webcam!!! Thank you!!!!!!!!!!” Kelli said: am 11 March 2009 om 06:29 “To be able to witness this experience live is such a blessing. “I don't know how I would react to the webcam on a normal day. what joy this must have brought to him. or leaning on a structure.there is that notion that the prayers aren't as powerful as thinking about what to pray for. On the website. UREM.. In the background. users are able to leave comments below the webcam players. jump up and down waving their arms for what appears to only be the webcam. UREM. which is at a considerable distance.the act of touching the western wall was especially powerful. possibly part of a generation more savvy with the digital age. From the comments.. pro-Israel site maintained by a Dutch couple who are Christian. when you think about what you should request.Moving images of quiet evening at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City streams via live webcam. during an interview regarding his physical visit.

For an example of such symbolism. devout Mormon Steffanie Reeder traveled 6 hours by bus to the capital city to listen to a live online broadcast of the General Conference of her faith.” Despite that people listen in online from across the world. “. the origin of the user's possible spiritual experience resulting from symbolic performance of ritual. Ethiopia] and listen to it on the internet with the people of your same faith was just a boon to your morale.. and their approval or disapproval cannot be physically seen. the church was only about 5 of us. 1996. The thing that stands out the most. this practice continues to exist. In an interview Reeder shares her experience.. March 2012.” “While online text-based ritual lacks physical presence.”13 Observing online E-Church behavior. as in any real-world ritual. Our discussion led to computer design and other 11 12 13 O'Leary. During the semi-annual conference broadcast from the U. the interaction of text. and perhaps with all live transmissions of rituals. the leadership of the church is sustained by its member. Interview with author. In earlier days of the church. . so to go up there [Addis Ababa. does not apply to the theory of collective effervescence..” and that this “structure shapes the ebb and flow of emotional intensity of the meeting. Heather and Lee write in reference to O'Leary's11 observation of “technopagans. . This case demonstrates that whatever is in place to facilitate such emotion must originate solely from the individual(s) symbolically participating. who have neither virtual nor physical connection to the leader or origin of the ritual. graphics. video and sound open up a range of ritual possibilities that may have profound consequences for the symbolic expression of religiosity” (Schroeder 1998). CREATION While doing research in Second Life I was involved in a conversation with a zombie hunter listening to soothing hymns inside a chapel. Sometimes you'd miss that contact. (when the entire membership was in one building) the person presiding over the meeting would ask for those present to sustain (confirm support and approval) the leaders of the church by a show of hands.S.. See in works cited. while living in Ethiopia.” (Schroeder 1998) In the case of Reeder in Ethiopia. it was rejuvenating and reminded me that there were 10 million other people out there listening as well.12 This practice is known as “raising one's hand to the square. during the sustaining I raised my hand to the square and was enthralled to see everyone raise their hands to sustain the prophets.As Schroeder. there is that strength and unity. Schroeder writes. Followed by asking those not in favor to show their disapproval in the same fashion. See Church in works cited. “Where I was at.meeting follows a response mode between leader and congregation and among congregation members.

formalization and adherence to the status-quo in a religious organization or culture often resemble their willingness to embrace and create new ways of ritual... From inside the church ruins I asked him a question regarding his real life activity.. if you want more structure in peoples lives its hard to be online. users can write in via Facebook chat to ask questions and participate by sending photos. the levels of centralization.probably not. Rabbi Robert Barr organized a virtual experience which reflects the unique voice of a humanistic approach to Judaism and spirituality. the very act of creation is as Eliade writes.14 The activity of creation in virtual space is incredibly important in relation to religious ritual and activity. The Vatican's live webcam of St. miguelito: what I mean is. the online format will signify this. let's say there is a cool gothic cemetery near your real life house. This is applicable to virtual space as “to organize a space is to repeat the paradigmatic work of the gods. a website.” (Walker 2010) Forming chaos into order is once again infusing oneself into narrative of the belief's mythic Examples can be seen across various faith systems. 'PinPan' then asked if I'd like to teleport with him to see a gothic cemetery and abandoned church. .. O'Leary eludes to this in his observations of techno-pagans and their conjunction of reverence and irreverence.interesting Sims on Second Life.16” Barr's observation is that if a religious organization in real life imposes a strong structure on its congregants. etc. The medium itself says something. Peters Basilica is often spliced into live transmissions from Papal appearances and sermons via the Vatican Television Center.given that there are lots of traditional places to go. I obliged and we spent a few minutes exploring the extremely well designed island. podcast and streaming video service. would you go ceck it out like we're doing now? PinPan: oh. humor and seriousness. (O'Leary 1996:801) Rather than create a virtual replica of the brick and mortar Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland. or users in the case of virtual life. cuz it prob wouldnt ever look as cool as this.. 14 15 16 Interview with author. High Holiday or other events. with Rabbi Barr and Rabbi Baum. Ohio.. Rabbi Barr said. <OurJewishCommunity. Using Dyck's study of organizational structures of religious places of worship (Dyck 2005:54). As a separate entity.. Referring again to Eliade's theory of eternal return. videos. in their online rituals. Rabbi Robert Barr and Rabbi Laura Baum operate the website OurJewishCommunity. appealing to liberal. Facebook March 2012. to have an online one that competes with them doesn't make a lot of sense. “I think philosophically we are in a different place. progressive Jews and those interested in> Interview with author. Legitimizing the unique voice and liturgy available through OurJewishCommunit y. March 2012.15During live casts for Shabatt.

but through technology reconcile these elements in unforeseen ways. the application appears to be an opportunity for sacred ritual to be performed in the secular world of the virtual. online and offline activity will become more commonplace.” (Gilgoff 2011) Perhaps a sheep in wolf's clothing. LifeChurch. then the options for traditional organized religious bodies in the world for cyberreligion would seem to be limited. it is my opinion that we should employ O'Leary's goal of inverting the 17 18 <> .tv17 which expends considerable resources moderating users comments in the live chat window during live sermons.. yet in fact is only to be used in conjunction with a physical confessional. Available on Apple devices is the application.. CONCLUSION “Virtual worlds are not secondary representations of the actual> <http://itunes. That isn't to say it will replace physical religiosity in any way.Although these transmissions are live and in virtual space. They can be dismissed as irrelevant or simply ignored: or they can offer themselves up in the new spiritual marketplace of virtual culture” (O'Leary 1996:804). With comparison to the Evangelical Christian website. and draw upon many elements of actual-world sociality. that the temptation to pit one against the other in a search for a quality check on 'reality' is great. (CNN) We see that within the category of creation. I am of the opinion it will not last as culturally. The predicament facing those religious organizations intent on maintaining structure in online modes is explained by O'Leary. One cannot talk in any way about a 'confession via iPhone.” (Boelstorff 2008:201) Perhaps religious experiences in a virtual space are still so heavily connected to their physical religious referent. “one defining aspect of the postmodern era is that it is an age when literally nothing is sacred. there is no opportunity to connect with the producer or other users simultaneously. rather it will shed the heavy connection and stigma associated with the debate as to whether it is considered an authentic religious experience. However. the promotion of a spiritual experience may be largely dependent on the particular religious organization's structure and corresponding autonomy its users are afforded while online. “[confession].apple. Online religiosity will become an end in itself. Rather than split hairs.18” Although from the description it might appear as if it is for virtual confession. They require actual world computers and bodies to exist. claiming to be the “perfect aid for every penitent. pros and cons of each approach are apparent.cannot in anyway be substituted by a technology application. according to Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi in an article published by CNN. Confession: A Roman Catholic App. as is the search term used to find it.

Kenneth 2005. (O'Leary 1996:795) BIBLIOGRAPHY Allen. Tobias N. Virtual Representations of the Middle East Conflict. Becker. Hierophany. Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social World. California: Pine Forge Press. Paper submitted for course work in the Visual Anthropology and Media Studies masters program at the Freie Universität Berlin.question of legitimacy to be a question of what the ritual and users gain while in a virtual environment.d. 116. Bowker. Thousand Oaks. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World . Pg. John 1997.

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