Scholar Spotlight on Nesrine Mansour: Digital Religion and Sacred Architecture

When one thinks of technology and religion, they most likely don’t think of them as linked together…. but they should. In today’s society, physical places of worship are becoming more difficult to visit. However, with the recent advancements in new media, religious practices are not constrained to a certain place or a specific time.

Nesrine Mansour, Ph.D Candidate in Architecture and Graduate Research Assistant at Texas A&M University, discusses the relationship between physical and virtual worshipping in the journal article, “Displacement in the Era of Digital Religion and Virtual Sacred Architecture.” This paper explores how virtual environments, such as live broadcasting of services, interactive religious games, mobile applications and panoramic images of the interior of a sacred building, can all enhance one’s spirituality.

The research provided in the article discussed that, “In order to test the theory of a continuous spirituality free from space and time through the use of digital tools, an empirical study was performed: Two case studies on two groups of students.” The first group was shown a virtual walkthrough of a catholic church. The second group performed a physical walkthrough of a catholic church. Then, both groups were given a survey regarding their spirituality after their experience.

Mansour states that, “The results of these experiments showed that no matter the place or time, the real vs. virtual, both groups expressed emotions that evoked a spiritual feeling.” Also evident, was the reality that there were more positive emotions related to the experiment, than negative emotions. This highlights the ability to maintain uplifting spiritual experiences through virtual avenues.

Mansour believes that the conclusions from this study contribute to current research in architecture and religious studies by progressing our knowledge “of the influence of an important architecture characteristic, light, on the representation of religious buildings when using digital religion.” It also provides instructions on how to design the virtual spaces and allows for everyone to have access to spiritual experiences. In the words of Mansour, “It will provide a continuation of spirituality freed from fixed space and time.”