Intersections: Interview with Rachel Wagner

Editor’s Note: This is the third of an ongoing series of interviews about the study of religion and media around the world. The first part and second part appeared earlier this summer.  In his introduction then, Plate wrote:

Over the next several months, I will be interviewing scholars who are investigating the places where religion and media meet. Since The Revealer itself began alongside NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, this seems a logical venue. The hope is that these intersections will provide a forum for a broad range of scholars, but also make scholarly work accessible to a general public interested in such topics. After all… they are inescapable even if we don’t think of them in terms like “religion” or “media.”

By S. Brent Plate

The human love of games stretches back for aeons. Gameplay presumes a sense of freedom, allows for the imagination to take center stage, and brings people together over a shared task. In her recent book, Godwired: Religion, Ritual, Virtual Reality, Rachel Wagner builds on this widespread human preoccupation, and brings it to bear on current developments in new media, particularly virtual reality. Virtual reality, like religious tradition, is involved in activities of world building, or, cosmos construction. Wagner moves between theories of religion and game programming to construct a unique inroad to the religious dimensions of virtual reality games. More importantly, she reconceives key aspects of religion–such as narrative, ritual, identity, community, and interactivity–by thinking through these alternative, technologically-mediated worlds. From this perspective, ritual itself becomes a kind of virtual reality game, with set players acting in specific parts and behaving in specific ways for a stated purpose. The uniqueness of her book is not so much in finding religion in games, but in pointing toward the virtually religious.

Rachel Wagner is Associate Professor of Religion at Ithaca College, NY, and currently a fellow at NYU’s Center for Religion and Media. She co-chairs the American Academy of Religion’s Group on Religion, Film, and Visual Culture, and has published widely on religion and culture. In the following audio interview, I speak with Wagner about the ideas leading up to Godwired, and where she might be headed with her ongoing research.


S. Brent Plate is visiting associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College. His recent books include Religion and Film: Cinema and the Re-Creation of the World; and Blasphemy: Art that Offends. With Jolyon Mitchell he co-edited The Religion and Film Reader. He is co-founder and managing editor of Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief.

Image:  William Blake, “Ancient of Days.”

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