Recently I was invited to take part in an experiment hosted by Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Vice-President of External Affairs at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Dr. Mahfood is well respected through the Association of Theological Schools for his leadership in online education and other forms of technology and learning. This experiment included my watching several videos using VR Goggles. The videos really merely reflected different experiments with VR from simulations to live experience, often in remarkable settings.
- 1) a moonwalk –
- 2) skydiving –
- 3) a YouTube Movie – works with both iPhone and Android An ocean experience – https://youtu.be/K6xyPOttq7o
I took part in the experience (took a few minutes to get the goggles to work correctly) but was intrigued by the experience. However, I was just one of 100 participants. Dr. Mahfood reported the project received the participation of 14 seminary and theological school presidents, vice presidents, and deans, 25 program directors and senior program directors (online learning, academic programs, communications, etc.), 25 seminary and theological school faculty, 18 independents, 9 priests, ordained ministers, and rabbis, 5 instructional design and network technologists, 2 program coordinators, and 2 librarians.
The results of the study were just released by Dr. Bryan Froehle, under the theme of Virtual Reality and Human Flourishing, which raise some interesting questions concerning VR use in the future.
VR is no longer a novelty. Mahfood earlier noted that the pornography industry was one of the early adopters, as well as horror productions. The intensity of the VR world may be more troubling than we imagine since it seems to affect different elements of the brain.
Yet the full impact of VR in the field of neuroscience is still underway. Entire labs are opening globally to explore the impact of this technology, raising questions about the nature of reality; explorations how different feedback systems influence our sensory experiences, and how VR technology might move forward to mainstream adoption.
But can there be a positive side for the church? What are the immersive possibilities for VR to communicate the grace and beauty of God’s world and the creativity of God’s people? In many Protestant circles, we seem hampered by a lack of aesthetic imagination. One example may be “Visio Divina,” a spiritual formation method that takes seriously an engagement with the eye, and a link to the heart. It may well be possible that we will soon encounter a “Visio VR,” a form of meditation and contemplation where we both actively engage God’s beauty and reflect meditatively through a VR experience. Indeed, we may begin to see religious paintings within a VR world, opening a 3D experience of religious artwork in a medium that brings together the work of the artist as well as that of the technologist.
The possibilities seem endless.VR may prove to be a novelty for a period of time (much like early efforts at 3D movies in the 1920s and later as a fad in the 1950s). Gaining sophistication make not take as long a time as early efforts due to the innovative efforts of local videographers armed with relatively inexpensive cameras and software.
Still, the potential for the church needs to be explored, curated, and provided to all. VR may afford a novel yet important way to re-engage God’s beauty through an immersive, aesthetic, experience.