Schroeder, R., Heather, N., and Lee, R. M. (1998). The sacred and the virtual: Religion in multi-user virtual reality. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 4(2). [url]
This paper presents participatory observations of virtual religious meetings. The authors participated for a coupe of weeks in these meetings and reported their experience comparing the virtual meetings to the actual meetings.
One of the difference the authors noticed was that virtual church permits design and experimentation of virtual spaces that are less constrained than a church in the real world. The authors pose the question on whether virual religion will have a corrosive or an invigorating effect on religion on the contemporary society. As Durkheim noticed, religious rituals consists of three elements: the physical co-presence of people to enhance emotionl energy, the ritualization of actions which includes a coordination of gestures and voices, and symbolic sacred object that reifies and reinforces the group’s sense of itself (1992, p.42). This three elements are absent in virtual encounters.
An interesting idea reported was that of sharing the prayers composed during the meetings with the rest of the community: “…Leader2 asks whether prayer requests may be passed to the world controller for display on a public space within the E-church world. This space, to which all will have access, fulfils the role of a church noticeboard or prayer letter, or the wider informal sharing of requests and needs which would naturally ripple out following the group meeting…”