Accepted Paper:

Authenticity and the reality of spiritual experience during a collective cyber-pilgrimage  
Jonathan Miles-Watson (Durham University)Vivian Asimos (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

We use a discussion of spirituality and reality on a cyber-pilgrimage, which lacks the moors and constraints of an established religious corollary, to unlock the processes by which individual experiences are collectively woven together by the pilgrim's movements through chimerical sacred space.

Paper long abstract:

During a cyber-pilgrimage laboratory that we ran in 2016 one of the participants commented that while they had found the experience uplifting they also felt a sense of guilt about spending so long doing something that was essentially not real. In this paper, we examine ideas of the real and the authentic in relation to accounts of spiritual experiences during a cyber-pilgrimage that lacks the moors and constraints of an established religious corollary. Comments about a feeling of the illusory nature of the experience are balanced against comments that interpret the experience as hyper-real to open understanding of the complexity of collectively as experienced on the trail.

We use a blend of visual ethnography and classic thick description to explore how these exoreligious forms of pilgrimage can be both experienced as a more authentic spiritual experience than traditional pilgrimage and a fake (or diminished) experience, which in turn leads to both a complicating of current cyber-religion discourse and a rethinking of classical pilgrimage theory.

Using the concept of 'grace', we explore the consequences of multiple physical actions being transposed into a single avatar, the similarities and differences between solitary and collective experiences in the cyber-pilgrimage trail, and the way that life lived in symbiosis with cyber-simulacra can simultaneously divorce us from contact with the Real and open new possibilities for sacralisation of life.

Panel MB-SSR03
Moments of "grace": exoreligious experiences of the numinous