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FIREFLY BUDDHISTS AND
VIRTUAL JEDI
Jean-Paul DuQuette, Ed.D (University of Macau)
Religion in Society Conference 2019 University of Granada, 26/4/19
LINDEN LAB’S SECOND LIFE:
AVATAR CHAT AND CONTENT
CREATION
FANDOM-INSPIRED NEW RELIGIOUS
MOVEMENTS
• “Fandom has emerged as an
ever more integral part of
lifeworlds, and an important
interface between the
dominant micro and macro
forces of our time” (Sandvoss,
Gray & Harrington, 2017, pp.
6,9).
RQ#1: WHAT DO FANDOM-INSPIRED
NRMS DO IN VIRTUAL WORLDS?
RQ#2: IS THERE SOMETHING FANDOM-
INSPIRED NRLS GET IN VIRTUAL WORLDS
THAT THEY CANNOT GET ELSEWHERE?
OUTLINE
• 1. Typology of online religion
• 2. Role-playing fandom
• 3. Pop culture religious hybrids
• 4. The Firefly Companion’s Guild
• 5. Research questions and methods
• 6. Results and Implications
1. ONLINE RELIGIOUS ENCOUNTERS
•A. Technophobia
•B. Technomediation
•C. Technomonism
• (Wagner, 2012, 112-118)
A. TECHNOPHOBIA
Notre Dame Borobudur Yogyakarta
B. TECHNOMEDIATION
…OR SOMETHING MORE
•Father Wyatt
performing mass at
Notre Dame in SL –
May 16, 2019
(Slade, 2019)
C. TECHNOMONISM
• “Virtual reality (is) a legitimate and
authentic new space into which
human beings can actually enter in
some meaningful kind of way, and
which they can enter in plural and
hybrid ways.
(Wagner, 2012, pp. 116)
• Not a separate virtual reality but a
“theater of the imagination”
(Helland, 2013, pp. 30)
2. PARTICIPATORY FANDOM
• Fan fiction / art
• LARPing
• Textbased MUDs and MOOs
• MMORPGs
• Role-playing communities in
virtual world sandboxes (e.g.
Second Life)
3. FANDOM BASED NRMS
The Jedi Church
(jedichurch.org, n.d.)
The Church of the Latter-Day
Dude (Dudeism, 2018)
WHY ARE FANDOM-BASED NRLS ‘A
THING’?
• Accelerated dissemination of pop
culture and fan groups via the Internet
• An identification with the values of
heroes from popular fantasy and
science-fiction and alienation from
mainstream religion / mythology
• A pre-existing knowledge base that has
been voluntarily consumed from which
to draw reference
4. THE BÓ'ÀI HÓNGLIÁN FIREFLY
COMPANION’S GUILD
IN SECOND LIFE
FIREFLY
• Broadcast by Fox in 2002-2003
• Joss Whedon’s “space-western”
• Serenity released in 2005
• Browncoats fan base stll strong (Firefly,
n.d.)
INARA SERRA
• Played by Morena Baccarin
• A Companion (courtesan)
• Socially elite
• Skills focusing less on sex and more on
psychological nurturing and emotional
well-being, etiquette and performing
arts (Firefly, n.d)
TAKEN FROM THE FIREFLY CANON
• Use of Mandarin Chinese
• Courtesan as councilor/negotiator
• Geisha culture
• Sex positivity
• Matriarchal Guild structure (implied)
THE GUILD AS A SCHOOL
Guild Sponsor (n=2)
Companion Patron (n=188)
Companion Acolyte (n=125)
Peacock Acolyte (n=50)
Flamingo Acolyte (Females) (n=31)
Hummingbird Acolyte (Males) (n=9)
Phoenix Acolyte (n=37)
Registered Companion (n=27)
Priestess (n=6)
High Priestess (n=1)
Extended family of participants (n=400
approx., 1/2019)
THE COMPANION’S GUILD AS AN
NRM
MY FOCUS IN THIS
PROJECT…EVOLVED
Initially
• To look at gamification and learner
motivation within a role-playing school
(DuQuette, 2017)
Eventually
• To examine how a virtual fandom-
based NRM functions
• To explore the unique affordances of
an online virtual world which might
facilitate the continued existence of a
fandom-based NRM
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORKS
• Virtual world ethnography
(Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce & Taylor,
2012)
• Digital Habitats
(Wenger, White & Smith, 2009)
• Practice-oriented spirituality
(Grieve, 2017; Wuthnow, 1998)
• Transmedia as religious world
building
(Wagner, 2012)
METHODS
• Qualitative and ethnographic
• Participant observation
(1/2016 – present)
• Class and event recordings
• Interviews recordings
• Extraplatform interactions
(Facebook, Ning)
RQ1
WHAT DOES THE COMPANION’S GUILD
DO?
•A role-playing
community
•An educational group
•A religious organization.
ROLE-PLAYING IN THE GUILD
• Guild sponsored social
events
• Collaborative events with
other SL fandom-based
groups
• “Encounters” by Registered
Companions (graduates)
GUILD CURRICULUM AND EVENTS
• Approximately a two-year course
• Core courses
• Member suggested courses
• Fire ceremonies
• Grading day
• Wo Men Dakai (graduation)
ASPECTS BASED ON KADAMPA
BUDDHISM
• 1. Meditation
• 2. Spiritual intermediaries
• 3. Dakini Land and Charnel Grounds
• 4. Buddhawheel
• 5. Four enjoyments
1. FOCUS ON REGULAR MEDITATION
2. EMPHASIS ON SPIRITUAL
INTERMEDIARIES
3. DAKINI LAND AND
CHARNEL GROUNDS
MANDALAS OF VAJRAYOGINI
• A Tantric Buddhist goddess and dakini
(“a Tantric term for female practioners,
adepts, spirits and dieties” (Shaw, 2006,
p. 359)).
• An unselfish deity that strives for the
well-being of others and the
destruction of their egos
• Appropriate for those people with
passionate natures (which she can
change into more enlightened virtues)
(Gyatso, 1996; Shaw, 2006)
4. BUDDHAWHEEL
AVATAR AS GAME PIECE
“PERFORMATIVE SPIRITUALITY”
(GRIEVE, 2017, P. 81)
MEMBER THOUGHTS ON
BUDDHAWHEEL
• “During the last session I played in, it struck me that one's
progression through various types of being wasn't a locked-in
hierarchical thing. You had things to learn and do regardless of
whether you were a Hell beast or god. Varahi pointed out that
one of the revolutionary aspects of the Buddha's teachings was to
give the untouchables and other low-caste Hindu a path to
enlightenment the brahmin claimed didn't exist for them.”
• (Lysana, private communication, 13/4/18)
5. THE FOUR ENJOYMENTS:
ROLE-PLAY ELEMENTS WITH
DEVOTIONAL SIGNFICANCE
• Gazing – “like visiting a shrine”
• Smiling – “showing appreciation
through the sharing of ritual…doing the
practice of the diety”
• Holding hands – “working with the
diety as friends”
• Union – “becoming one with the diety”
• (Varahi Lusch, interview, 3/12/18)
REGISTERED COMPANIONS ON
SPIRITUALITY IN THE COMPANIONS
GUILD
• “While the Guild hasn't turned me into a Buddhist by any stretch, I
do know I'm operating under a perception of concepts like
attachment that I didn't have before.” (Lysana, private
conversation, 13/4/18)
• “The Guild training, particularly the meditation element, gave me a
social self-awareness that my previous meditation training hadn't
addressed. Varahi is not only a gifted teacher but an originator
and has effectively created a new spiritual tradition.” (Beeflin,
private conversation, 13/4/18)
THE COMPANIONS GUILD AS A
TRANSMEDIA HYBRID NRM
• 1. Implicitly connects established
author-centric world building with fan
fiction, role-playing and the ‘lore’ of an
established tradition.
• 2. Reportedly has an impact on
psychological well-being outside of the
magic circle of role-play (Huizinga,
1955).
• 3. Practice-based / dogma-light
interactions in role-play provide an
opening for participants initially averse
or ambivalent to religion / spirituality.
RQ2
DOES SL PROVIDE ANY UNIQUE
AFFORDANCES FOR THE GUILD?
INTERVIEW WITH
HIGH PRIESTESS VARAHI
• Group leader
• Spent time in a Buddhist
monastery
• Geisha “evangelist”
INTERVIEW WITH ZEN:
A VIRTUAL COMPANION AND A VIRTUAL
JEDI?
• Teaches “Love Without Attachement:
The Jedi view on Love and Intimacy”
• Author of Your First Step Into a Larger
World (2018)
• A Jedi role-player in SL, but a Jedi
religious practioner in RL
IMMERSIVE PROPS FOR BOTH
RELIGIOUS BELIEF AND ROLE-PLAY
• Virtual costumes
• Virtual ritual spaces
• Access to a worldwide fanbase of
likeminded practitioners
• What stimulates the imagination
stimulates the possibility for belief…
AUGMENTED IMAGINATION
• The use of virtual artifacts,
environments and social networks
to enhance the sense of authenticity
and/or legitimize an online group.
• Applicable for religious
organizations, role-playing groups
and any online community in which
belief or suspension of disbelief is
important.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS
• Virtual environments like Second Life
might foster NRMs that would
otherwise flounder.
• Virtual sandboxes like SL might provide
a gateway from fandom-based role-
play to fandom-based spirituality.
• Virtual environments provide low-cost
opportunities for technomonists who
might be otherwise unable to
participate in brick and mortar religious
activities.
THEORETICAL IMPLICATIONS
• A reminder that there is overlap
between theories of belief and theories
of suspension of disbelief (Laycock,
2015).
• Immersive environments have both
graphical and social affordances.
(Morningstar & Farmer, 1991).
• Just as pop culture draws on religious
and mythological themes, so now can
pop culture influence (or subvert or
replace) mainstream communities of
belief.
REFERENCES
• Bird, L. C. (2018). Your first step into a larger world: An introduction to walking the Jedi Path. CreateSpace
Independent Publish Platform.
• Boellstorff, T., Nardi, B., Pearce, C. & Taylor, T.L. (2012). Ethnography and virtual worlds: A handbook of
method. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
• Dudeism (2018). The Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Retrieved from http://dudeism.com
• DuQuette, J. (2017), June). The Companion’s Guild: Role-play, education and spirituality in a Second Life
community. Paper presented at the International Scientific Conference on Cultural Group Behavior, Kaunas,
Lithuania
• Firefly (TV series) (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly (TV series)
• Gray, J., Sandvoss, C. & Harrington, C.L. (2017). Why still study fans? In J. Gray, C. Sandvoss & C.L. Harrington
(Eds.), Fandom: Identities in a mediated world (pp. 1-26)
• Grieve, G.P. (2017). Cyber Zen: Imagining authentic Buddhist identity, community, and practices in the virtual
world of Second Life. New York: Routledge.
• Gyatso, G.K. (1997). Guide to Dakini Land: The Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Buddha Vajrayogini. USA:
Tharpa Publications.
REFERENCES (CONT.)
• Helland, C. (2013). Ritual. In H. Campbell (Ed.), Digital religion: Understanding religious
practice in new media worlds. New York; Routledge.
• Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo ludens: A study of the play element in culture. Boston, MA: The
Beacon Press
• Jedi Church (n.d.). The Jedi Church. Retrieved from https://www.jedichurch.org.
• Laycock, J. (2015). Dangerous games: What the moral panic over role-playing games says
about play, religion, and imagined worlds. Oakland: California: University of California Press.
• Morningstar, C. & Farmer, R. (1991). The lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat. In M. Benedikt (Ed.)
First Steps. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. 274
• Mystie Slade (2019, May 16). Father Wyatt performing mass at Notre Dame in SL.
https://www.facebook.com/mystie.slade [Facebook update]
• Shaw, M. (2006). Buddhist Goddesses of India. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
• Wagner, R. (2012). Godwired: Religion, ritual and virtual reality. New York: Routledge.
SECOND LIFE PHOTO CREDITS
• Jean-Paul DuQuette (Slide 3, 22, 23, 40)
• Mystie Slade (10)
• Zen (41)
• FionaFei (all others)

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Firefly Buddhists and virtual Jedi V.1

  • 1. FIREFLY BUDDHISTS AND VIRTUAL JEDI Jean-Paul DuQuette, Ed.D (University of Macau) Religion in Society Conference 2019 University of Granada, 26/4/19
  • 2. LINDEN LAB’S SECOND LIFE: AVATAR CHAT AND CONTENT CREATION
  • 3. FANDOM-INSPIRED NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS • “Fandom has emerged as an ever more integral part of lifeworlds, and an important interface between the dominant micro and macro forces of our time” (Sandvoss, Gray & Harrington, 2017, pp. 6,9).
  • 4. RQ#1: WHAT DO FANDOM-INSPIRED NRMS DO IN VIRTUAL WORLDS?
  • 5. RQ#2: IS THERE SOMETHING FANDOM- INSPIRED NRLS GET IN VIRTUAL WORLDS THAT THEY CANNOT GET ELSEWHERE?
  • 6. OUTLINE • 1. Typology of online religion • 2. Role-playing fandom • 3. Pop culture religious hybrids • 4. The Firefly Companion’s Guild • 5. Research questions and methods • 6. Results and Implications
  • 7. 1. ONLINE RELIGIOUS ENCOUNTERS •A. Technophobia •B. Technomediation •C. Technomonism • (Wagner, 2012, 112-118)
  • 8. A. TECHNOPHOBIA Notre Dame Borobudur Yogyakarta
  • 10. …OR SOMETHING MORE •Father Wyatt performing mass at Notre Dame in SL – May 16, 2019 (Slade, 2019)
  • 11. C. TECHNOMONISM • “Virtual reality (is) a legitimate and authentic new space into which human beings can actually enter in some meaningful kind of way, and which they can enter in plural and hybrid ways. (Wagner, 2012, pp. 116) • Not a separate virtual reality but a “theater of the imagination” (Helland, 2013, pp. 30)
  • 12. 2. PARTICIPATORY FANDOM • Fan fiction / art • LARPing • Textbased MUDs and MOOs • MMORPGs • Role-playing communities in virtual world sandboxes (e.g. Second Life)
  • 13. 3. FANDOM BASED NRMS The Jedi Church (jedichurch.org, n.d.) The Church of the Latter-Day Dude (Dudeism, 2018)
  • 14. WHY ARE FANDOM-BASED NRLS ‘A THING’? • Accelerated dissemination of pop culture and fan groups via the Internet • An identification with the values of heroes from popular fantasy and science-fiction and alienation from mainstream religion / mythology • A pre-existing knowledge base that has been voluntarily consumed from which to draw reference
  • 15. 4. THE BÓ'ÀI HÓNGLIÁN FIREFLY COMPANION’S GUILD IN SECOND LIFE
  • 16. FIREFLY • Broadcast by Fox in 2002-2003 • Joss Whedon’s “space-western” • Serenity released in 2005 • Browncoats fan base stll strong (Firefly, n.d.)
  • 17. INARA SERRA • Played by Morena Baccarin • A Companion (courtesan) • Socially elite • Skills focusing less on sex and more on psychological nurturing and emotional well-being, etiquette and performing arts (Firefly, n.d)
  • 18. TAKEN FROM THE FIREFLY CANON • Use of Mandarin Chinese • Courtesan as councilor/negotiator • Geisha culture • Sex positivity • Matriarchal Guild structure (implied)
  • 19. THE GUILD AS A SCHOOL Guild Sponsor (n=2) Companion Patron (n=188) Companion Acolyte (n=125) Peacock Acolyte (n=50) Flamingo Acolyte (Females) (n=31) Hummingbird Acolyte (Males) (n=9) Phoenix Acolyte (n=37) Registered Companion (n=27) Priestess (n=6) High Priestess (n=1) Extended family of participants (n=400 approx., 1/2019)
  • 21. MY FOCUS IN THIS PROJECT…EVOLVED Initially • To look at gamification and learner motivation within a role-playing school (DuQuette, 2017) Eventually • To examine how a virtual fandom- based NRM functions • To explore the unique affordances of an online virtual world which might facilitate the continued existence of a fandom-based NRM
  • 22. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORKS • Virtual world ethnography (Boellstorff, Nardi, Pearce & Taylor, 2012) • Digital Habitats (Wenger, White & Smith, 2009) • Practice-oriented spirituality (Grieve, 2017; Wuthnow, 1998) • Transmedia as religious world building (Wagner, 2012)
  • 23. METHODS • Qualitative and ethnographic • Participant observation (1/2016 – present) • Class and event recordings • Interviews recordings • Extraplatform interactions (Facebook, Ning)
  • 24. RQ1 WHAT DOES THE COMPANION’S GUILD DO? •A role-playing community •An educational group •A religious organization.
  • 25. ROLE-PLAYING IN THE GUILD • Guild sponsored social events • Collaborative events with other SL fandom-based groups • “Encounters” by Registered Companions (graduates)
  • 26. GUILD CURRICULUM AND EVENTS • Approximately a two-year course • Core courses • Member suggested courses • Fire ceremonies • Grading day • Wo Men Dakai (graduation)
  • 27. ASPECTS BASED ON KADAMPA BUDDHISM • 1. Meditation • 2. Spiritual intermediaries • 3. Dakini Land and Charnel Grounds • 4. Buddhawheel • 5. Four enjoyments
  • 28. 1. FOCUS ON REGULAR MEDITATION
  • 29. 2. EMPHASIS ON SPIRITUAL INTERMEDIARIES
  • 30. 3. DAKINI LAND AND CHARNEL GROUNDS
  • 31. MANDALAS OF VAJRAYOGINI • A Tantric Buddhist goddess and dakini (“a Tantric term for female practioners, adepts, spirits and dieties” (Shaw, 2006, p. 359)). • An unselfish deity that strives for the well-being of others and the destruction of their egos • Appropriate for those people with passionate natures (which she can change into more enlightened virtues) (Gyatso, 1996; Shaw, 2006)
  • 33. AVATAR AS GAME PIECE
  • 35. MEMBER THOUGHTS ON BUDDHAWHEEL • “During the last session I played in, it struck me that one's progression through various types of being wasn't a locked-in hierarchical thing. You had things to learn and do regardless of whether you were a Hell beast or god. Varahi pointed out that one of the revolutionary aspects of the Buddha's teachings was to give the untouchables and other low-caste Hindu a path to enlightenment the brahmin claimed didn't exist for them.” • (Lysana, private communication, 13/4/18)
  • 36. 5. THE FOUR ENJOYMENTS: ROLE-PLAY ELEMENTS WITH DEVOTIONAL SIGNFICANCE • Gazing – “like visiting a shrine” • Smiling – “showing appreciation through the sharing of ritual…doing the practice of the diety” • Holding hands – “working with the diety as friends” • Union – “becoming one with the diety” • (Varahi Lusch, interview, 3/12/18)
  • 37. REGISTERED COMPANIONS ON SPIRITUALITY IN THE COMPANIONS GUILD • “While the Guild hasn't turned me into a Buddhist by any stretch, I do know I'm operating under a perception of concepts like attachment that I didn't have before.” (Lysana, private conversation, 13/4/18) • “The Guild training, particularly the meditation element, gave me a social self-awareness that my previous meditation training hadn't addressed. Varahi is not only a gifted teacher but an originator and has effectively created a new spiritual tradition.” (Beeflin, private conversation, 13/4/18)
  • 38. THE COMPANIONS GUILD AS A TRANSMEDIA HYBRID NRM • 1. Implicitly connects established author-centric world building with fan fiction, role-playing and the ‘lore’ of an established tradition. • 2. Reportedly has an impact on psychological well-being outside of the magic circle of role-play (Huizinga, 1955). • 3. Practice-based / dogma-light interactions in role-play provide an opening for participants initially averse or ambivalent to religion / spirituality.
  • 39. RQ2 DOES SL PROVIDE ANY UNIQUE AFFORDANCES FOR THE GUILD?
  • 40. INTERVIEW WITH HIGH PRIESTESS VARAHI • Group leader • Spent time in a Buddhist monastery • Geisha “evangelist”
  • 41. INTERVIEW WITH ZEN: A VIRTUAL COMPANION AND A VIRTUAL JEDI? • Teaches “Love Without Attachement: The Jedi view on Love and Intimacy” • Author of Your First Step Into a Larger World (2018) • A Jedi role-player in SL, but a Jedi religious practioner in RL
  • 42. IMMERSIVE PROPS FOR BOTH RELIGIOUS BELIEF AND ROLE-PLAY • Virtual costumes • Virtual ritual spaces • Access to a worldwide fanbase of likeminded practitioners • What stimulates the imagination stimulates the possibility for belief…
  • 43. AUGMENTED IMAGINATION • The use of virtual artifacts, environments and social networks to enhance the sense of authenticity and/or legitimize an online group. • Applicable for religious organizations, role-playing groups and any online community in which belief or suspension of disbelief is important.
  • 44. PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS • Virtual environments like Second Life might foster NRMs that would otherwise flounder. • Virtual sandboxes like SL might provide a gateway from fandom-based role- play to fandom-based spirituality. • Virtual environments provide low-cost opportunities for technomonists who might be otherwise unable to participate in brick and mortar religious activities.
  • 45. THEORETICAL IMPLICATIONS • A reminder that there is overlap between theories of belief and theories of suspension of disbelief (Laycock, 2015). • Immersive environments have both graphical and social affordances. (Morningstar & Farmer, 1991). • Just as pop culture draws on religious and mythological themes, so now can pop culture influence (or subvert or replace) mainstream communities of belief.
  • 46. REFERENCES • Bird, L. C. (2018). Your first step into a larger world: An introduction to walking the Jedi Path. CreateSpace Independent Publish Platform. • Boellstorff, T., Nardi, B., Pearce, C. & Taylor, T.L. (2012). Ethnography and virtual worlds: A handbook of method. Princeton: Princeton University Press. • Dudeism (2018). The Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Retrieved from http://dudeism.com • DuQuette, J. (2017), June). The Companion’s Guild: Role-play, education and spirituality in a Second Life community. Paper presented at the International Scientific Conference on Cultural Group Behavior, Kaunas, Lithuania • Firefly (TV series) (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly (TV series) • Gray, J., Sandvoss, C. & Harrington, C.L. (2017). Why still study fans? In J. Gray, C. Sandvoss & C.L. Harrington (Eds.), Fandom: Identities in a mediated world (pp. 1-26) • Grieve, G.P. (2017). Cyber Zen: Imagining authentic Buddhist identity, community, and practices in the virtual world of Second Life. New York: Routledge. • Gyatso, G.K. (1997). Guide to Dakini Land: The Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Buddha Vajrayogini. USA: Tharpa Publications.
  • 47. REFERENCES (CONT.) • Helland, C. (2013). Ritual. In H. Campbell (Ed.), Digital religion: Understanding religious practice in new media worlds. New York; Routledge. • Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo ludens: A study of the play element in culture. Boston, MA: The Beacon Press • Jedi Church (n.d.). The Jedi Church. Retrieved from https://www.jedichurch.org. • Laycock, J. (2015). Dangerous games: What the moral panic over role-playing games says about play, religion, and imagined worlds. Oakland: California: University of California Press. • Morningstar, C. & Farmer, R. (1991). The lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat. In M. Benedikt (Ed.) First Steps. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. 274 • Mystie Slade (2019, May 16). Father Wyatt performing mass at Notre Dame in SL. https://www.facebook.com/mystie.slade [Facebook update] • Shaw, M. (2006). Buddhist Goddesses of India. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. • Wagner, R. (2012). Godwired: Religion, ritual and virtual reality. New York: Routledge.
  • 48. SECOND LIFE PHOTO CREDITS • Jean-Paul DuQuette (Slide 3, 22, 23, 40) • Mystie Slade (10) • Zen (41) • FionaFei (all others)