Forbes India – From Metaverse to NFTs, how the world of religion is embracing digital technology

Many religious institutions are turning to new technologies to reach a wider audience. Image: Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

ADue to the pandemic, many religions and faith groups have had to take refuge online to maintain a connection with their followers. Some religious organizations have even been tempted by the metaverse, while the Vatican has decided to launch its own NFT collection.

Every year, millions of people visit Vatican City to explore its many museums. They can admire the monumental frescoes that Michelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel, or Raphael’s four rooms. But not every art lover can necessarily take a trip to the world’s smallest state, especially since the start of the pandemic.

The Vatican has therefore decided to create NFTs of certain works of art, manuscripts and other rare objects in its collection. They will be displayed in a virtual gallery, accessible via a computer and in virtual reality (VR). This ambitious project is supported by Sensorium, a company specializing in virtual reality, and Humanity 2.0, a non-profit organization run by the Holy See.

The two organizations hope that this NFT collection will bring the heritage of the Vatican to those who otherwise could not discover it. “We look forward to working with Sensorium to explore ways to democratize art, making it more widely accessible to people around the world, regardless of their socio-economic and geographic limitations,” said Father Philip Larrey, who chairs Humanity 2.0, in a press release.

Although the exact details of this project are not yet clear, the Vatican says it will not be commercial. The NFT collection of the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church is not intended for sale, according to the specialist magazine Artnews. This is all the more surprising since the revenues of the Vatican museums are crucial for the small state. According to unofficial estimates, these institutions bring in some 100 million euros in ticket sales, a significant sum considering that the Papal State has lost 50 million euros due to the pandemic.

Visit Mecca virtually

The Vatican is not the only religious institution to turn to new technologies to reach a wider audience. Saudi authorities have recently developed a program allowing Muslims to virtually visit Mecca. Equipped with their VR headsets, pilgrims can mingle with the avatars of other worshipers as they visit the Kaaba (“cube” in Arabic), the holiest shrine in the Saudi city’s Grand Mosque complex.

However, the Diyanet, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, takes a dim view of this virtual visit to Mecca in the metaverse. The organization says believers must still travel “physically” to the Saudi city to perform the hajj – or pilgrimage – one of the five pillars of Islam. Indeed, the professor of theology, Hatice Boynukalin, told the daily Yeni Safak that the existence of this virtual opportunity does not exempt the faithful from their obligation to make the pilgrimage.

If one thing is certain, it is that digital is interfering more and more in certain religious practices. The pandemic has caused many religious people to turn to social media, even the metaverse, to share their faith with other believers. Pastor DJ Soto has been hosting virtual worship services on AltspaceVR, VRChat and Twitch platforms for six years. At first, only a few people attended his weekly sermons. Some 200 worshipers have since joined DJ Soto’s congregation, according to Fortune magazine.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Reverend Jeremy Nickel has experienced a similar craze for the meditation sessions he leads on the EvolVR platform. All you need is a virtual reality headset to participate via an avatar. “One of the reasons we’ve become so popular is that you get the meditation you need, but you also get the community,” Reverend Jeremy Nickel told Fortune. “We have deep relationships, hundreds of people around the world who know each other and are like, ‘Is your dog okay? How’s your wife?'” Just like they would in real life.

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