New religious movements (NRMs) drawing inspiration from science-fiction and fantasy literature, films and television programs have become part of the landscape of religious experience since the late 20th Century. What do some adherents of such NRMs choose to borrow from established traditions, and what do they take from popular fandom? What appeal can fandom have in the construction of personal religious systems? This case study examines two individuals exploring their own spirituality through fandom-inspired practices both offline and in the online virtual world of Second Life: a Jedi, based on characters created by George Lucas for his Star Wars films, and a Companion, from Joss Whedon's Firefly television series. Through interviews, social media posts and two years of participant observation, this study explores the participants' attraction to sci-fi based philosophy and religion and also examines what they have borrowed from Buddhism in their hybrid spiritual practices. By identifying the overlap between religious tradition, new age philosophical individualism, and the worlds of popular fantasy media, this study illuminates the impulse to transform fandom into a spiritual practice. It also shows how the affordances of an avatar-based virtual chat environment can enable fandom-based spirituality.
Second Life, Fandom, New Religious Movements, Buddhism, Online Education
Religious Community and Socialization
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session
Jean-Paul Lafayette DuQuette
Senior Instructor, Faculty of Arts and Humanities / English Language Centre, University of Macau, Macao
Jean-Paul DuQuette received a BA in English from the University of California at Irvine and an MA in ESL from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He has been teaching ESL in the U.S. and Japan for the last 13 years. He is currently working as an English lecturer at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, and is an EdD candidate at Temple University Japan in Osaka. He is interested in the potential opportunities for language learning and pedagogy in online virtual environments.