Imagining Authentic Buddhist Identity, Community, and Practices in the Virtual World of Second Life
Cyber Zen ethnographically explores Buddhist practices in the online virtual world of Second Life. Does typing at a keyboard and moving avatars around the screen, however, count as real Buddhism? If authentic practices must mimic the actual world, then Second Life Buddhism does not. In fact, a critical investigation reveals that online Buddhist practices have at best only a family resemblance to canonical Asian traditions and owe much of their methods to the late twentieth-century field of cybernetics. If, however, they are judged existentially, by how they enable users to respond to the suffering generated by living in a highly mediated consumer society, then Second Life Buddhism consists of authentic spiritual practices.
Cyber Zen explores how Second Life Buddhist enthusiasts form communities, identities, locations, and practices that are both products of and authentic responses to contemporary Network Consumer Society. Gregory Price Grieve illustrates that to some extent all religion has always been virtual and gives a glimpse of possible future alternative forms of religion.
Table of Contents
I. Introduction: "Logging on". Part One: "The Play between Creativity and Desire". II. Chapter One: "Liquid Salvation: A Walkthrough of Second Life Religion". III. Chapter Two: "Second Life Buddhism: The Desire for 'Real Buddhism in a Virtual World". Part Two: "Three Virtual Jewels: Self, Practice and Community". IV. Chapter Three:"Virtual Robes of Enlightenment: Fashioning a Buddhist Self in Second Life". V. Chapter Four: "Sitting on a Virtual Cushio: Second Life Buddhist Practice". VI. Chapter Five: "The Virtual Sangha: A Buddhist Cloud Community". VII. Conclusion: "Awakening in the Virtual World".
Gregory Price Grieve is Professor and Head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He researches and teaches at the intersection of digital media, Buddhism, and the theories and methods for the study of religion.
"Cyber Zen is the first book-length ethnography of Buddhism practice in a virtual world. Grieve’s book offers an innovative theoretical approach and a fascinating exploration of the intersection of digital media, Buddhism, and popular culture. This is a valuable study of importance to anyone interested in digital religion, religion and media, Buddhism, and contemporary religion."
- Erica Baffelli, University of Manchester, UK
"Innovative virtual world spiritualties are likely to increase. With his deep understanding of traditional Buddhism and cybernetics, Grieve is well equipped as a guide through this dynamic intersection of Zen and digital media. We need more studies like this one to understand digital spirituality both in terms of contemporary culture and the evolution of religion."
- Calvin Mercer, East Carolina University