Cyberspace As Sacred Space: Toronto's Universal Oneness Spiritual Centre

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 17:00
Location: Hörsaal 34 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Roland SHAINIDZE, York University, Canada
As a phenomenon that has had overwhelming social, cultural and political influence, the internet has become so embedded in our lives that it is difficult to imagine what we did before its invention, how we communicated or how we did our work without almost instantaneous access to information. It is not surprising, then, that the web is also a very active religious environment. Like many organizations, religious and spiritual groups use the internet extensively to proclaim their beliefs and to be in contact with their followers. Broadly construed, religious activity on the internet occurs along a continuum bounded at one end by religion online and at the other by online religion. Conceived originally by Christopher Helland and further developed by Lorne Dawson, religion online means the use of the internet as a vehicle for providing information about or by religious groups, movements, and traditions and involves the traditional forms of web communication with no interactivity. Almost every religious group has a space on the web as an extension of their message or to provide information to their members. Online religion looks to the internet as an interactive venue for religious practice, ritual, observance and innovation. Rather than simply seek information online, adherents use the internet as an integral part of their religious lives. Chat-rooms turn into scripture study classrooms or prayer groups; web cameras provide adherents, who may be geographically dispersed, the opportunity for religious practices like ritual adoration or “virtual” pilgrimage; and with the emergence of such groups as the “cyber-coven” and the “cyber-church,” some religionists are moving entirely online. Focusing on the Universal Oneness Spiritual Centre, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, this paper compares and contrasts the pros and cons of online and offline New Age spirituality, paying particular attention to issues of social, cultural and geographical differentiation.