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Pinocchio goes to church: The religious life of avatars

Research project In virtual worlds, individuals explore new experiences of holiness. An avatar is the representation of the individual self, controlled like a marionette, like Pinocchio, by invisible threads. Behind the avatar is the driver or puppeteer, who commands the expression of the avatar. This project investigates how the religious experience of the avatar is related to its driver, and vice versa, and if and to what extent the avatar, like Pinocchio, can emancipate himself from the puppeteer and live a life of his own.

Can an avatar tear itself loose from its puppeteer's threads and control and live a (religious) life of its own? Maybe in a virtual, parallel world. In such worlds one finds avatars seeking experience of the holy, as well as entrepreneurs creating environments where avatars' (people's) experiences of the holy may be held together in a meaning system. One investigation is about the avatars seeking the holy (and their agents), another about the entrepreneurs constructing environments (and their avatars). Why do they hang around in virtual worlds, and why do they build churches and congregations there?

Project overview

Project period:

2010-01-01 2012-12-31


Finansår , 2010, 2011

huvudman: Jørgen Straarup, finansiar: Vetenskapsrådet, y2010: 972, y2011: 972,

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies

Project description

Entrepreneurs create spaces and activities, and avatars participate in the activities or hang out in the spaces. The experiences of the avatars (holiness, motivation for commitment, fulfillment, confirmation, sense of meaning) are channeled back to the driver. The aim of the project is to analyze the motivation of avatars and their drivers (participants as well as entrepreneurs), assuming that both groups are seeking experiences of holiness, with an added motivation among entrepreneurs from positive evaluation by other avatars. Study A focuses on avatars aiming at description, understanding, and analysis of differences and similarities between holiness experiences in virtual and physical worlds. Study B focuses on entrepreneurs in order to describe, understand, and analyze their motivation and inspiration. Of special interest is how entrepreneurs relate to, and evaluate, the experience of participants when developing these spaces and activities.