ARDA Working Papers Series

Religion and Gender in World of Warcraft

William Sims Bainbridge

Major cultural shifts sometimes happen in unexpected ways that traditional social indicators fail to measure. This may be the case today for religion in the online environment, partly because social scientists of religion may have been blinded by the emphasis on faith (rather than hope or fantasy) in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic tradition. In particular, it is possible that the "fictional" religions in massively multi-player online games (MMORPGs) are a harbinger of the future of religion more generally, and especially conducive to social-scientific research (Bainbridge 2007b). This article will employ a range of data, both qualitative and qualitative, to explore these possibilities, with the proviso that it is far too early in the development of post-modern religion, and in social-scientific understanding of online communities, to come to firm conclusions. The empirical focus will be World of Warcraft (WoW), the most popular MMORPG, and the theoretical basis is the information-exchange theory of religion developed by the author in collaboration with Rodney Stark and others over the past thirty years (Stark and Bainbridge 1985, 1987).

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