Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Braiterman, Zachary J.



Subject Categories



This thesis asserts a visual ontology as a way of understanding religious practice online. W.J.T Mitchell argues twenty-first century humanities are shifting away from text and towards an interest in the meaning of images. However, he denies digital images a place within this pictorial turn, judging them banal. Mitchell's theorization of new media is a postmodern rereading of Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". I argue that Mitchell's utilization of Benjamin's aura in his constructions of the human relationship to new media misinterprets the role of these technologies in relating the image to the object, and that digital images should be rethought in terms of a visual ontology. The study of religion online has flourished as a subfield parallel to the increasing utilization of visual-digital media. Cross-disciplinary study of religion online reflects vast but methodologically shallow scholarship. Recent publications make an effort to deepen these theoretical investments, as the accumulated scholarship becomes self-reflexive. This thesis contributes both Mitchell's picture theory and the exploration of a visual ontology to this new methodology. As human interaction within digital media becomes predominantly visually based, there comes a need for parallel theorization of visually based being. Tensile interactions between text and image go beyond the metaphor of the "living image" and become towards a new way of being. Second Life, an inhabitable virtual world, exercises Mitchell's tension between text and image, as both struggle to delimit means of experience. New object/image/text/picture orientations in virtual worlds like Second Life, particularly in its religious spaces, consequently create new ways of being human within the visual-digital culture. Largely a re-reading of Mitchell and the deployment of his theory across the images of Second Life, this essay finds that Benjamin's ideas of disembodied reproduction and the aura as lost through mechanical intervention fade as visual media becomes lived in and expressed outwardly as the avatar.


Open Access

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Religion Commons