Cyberspace Salvations: Computer Technology, Simulation, and Modern Gnosis
04 / 2004 - 05 / 2011
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)
INTRODUCTION AND RESEARCH PROBLEM While technology has long been a mainstay of theories of rationalization and disenchantment, this research program studies whether an 'elective affinity' exists between computer technology and post-traditional religion. Several authors maintain that many New Agers, cyber-punks, computer programmers and technophiles conceive of cyberspace as an enchanted and sacred space that enables a disembodied immortality and omniscience in a Gnostic fusion of the self with the divine realm of information. We ask in what kind of circumstances one finds such correspondences between the realization of "self" in New Age gnosis and the realization of disembodied humanity in cyberspace, and whether they indeed contradict modernist theories of a systematically strained relationship between religion and technology. HYPOTHESIS We hypothesize that such a modern gnosis is stimulated by situations in which people can forget about the material production and (mal)functioning of the technology, and fully indulge in the culture of simulation that it makes possible. The simulation of non-existent realities lies, we propose, at the basis of the fusion of New Age gnosis and cyberspace. THREE RESEARCH PROJECTS The proposed research program consists of two Ph.D. projects and a postdoc project. The first (Ph.D.) project, "Silicon Valley and 'New Age'", studies the mutual influences of the 'West Coast' counter-cultural movement and the emergence of the Personal Computer, the Apple MacIntosh graphic user interface and the Internet since the sixties. The second (postdoc) project, "The Gnostic Dimension of Gaming", studies popular Tolkienesque computer games, and asks whether and in which contexts of production or consumption of these games they are experienced as simulating a spiritual reality rather than "mere play". The third (Ph.D.) project, "Faith and Gnosis on the World Wide Web", compares webmasters and their clients of different religious - "New Age" and more traditional - groups in their relationship to the medium of the World Wide Web.