Thursday, July 17, 2008

Merryn joins the fray

Hi there.

It occurred to me that I should jump in and pull my weight in keeping this blog up to date, following the excellent entries from my colleagues, Helen and Morgan, and their respective avatars. My name is Dan Walker in real life, and in Second Life, I'm known as Merryn Beck. In both lives, I'm an educator, a student, a researcher, and many other things. Officially, I’m a PhD candidate in the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics at the University of Queensland.

When Helen Farley and Rick Strelan first started talking about the possibility of starting a Studies in Religion Second Life project, over coffees and hallway chats, I listened in awe. Being so new to SL at the time, I could only begin to imagine the amount of work ahead of them. However, their vision paid off, and they were awarded a T&L grant to get things underway. A short time later, I had joined the team, and Helen and I went through a steep learning curve, as we explored the growing world of religion in Second Life, and started to take undergraduate students along for the ride.

And we’re still learning. I think that’s one of the really great things about SL—there’s always more to learn. Every time I go in-world, I learn or discover (or am shown, by one of my SL friends) something or somewhere new. Also, we now have Morgan in the team, and her technical skills in SL far outweigh mine and Helen’s (check out our cool machinima, which Morgan shot, directed, produced and starred in!!)

The religious possibilities in SL are pretty exciting (see Helen’s post of 13 July), and we hope to explore what some pioneering folk have done. Seeing as my particular area of research is Vodou (and a big shout out to my Vodou family in New Orleans, at La Source Ancienne Ounfo – I miss you guys!), I thought I’d check out the Vodou places in SL.

Usually when I do a search for Vodou anywhere, I mentally prepare myself for disappointment. Firstly there are multiple spellings (Voodoo, Voudou, Voudoun, Vaudou, etc). Also, Vodou is a grossly misunderstood religion, and the name gets tacked on to all sorts of things. SL is no exception. Hence the Voodoo Lounge, various design companies, and of course, Voodoo Village, a rental area where BDSM is welcome and encouraged. Not what I was looking for...

There are two actual Vodou areas in SL at the moment. The first, “The Bayou” is an area set up with a bonfire, and a poto-mitan (centre-post, for dancing around and offering gifts). It has some lovely Haitian flags, but no notecards or information. The other, the Vodou House Museum, has been around for a while, but has not changed in some time. It has a couple of notecards, and some nice pictures, but nothing really meaty for the budding Vodounist in us all. The main notecard suggests an ongoing project, so I hope they get back to it soon:

Welcome to Second Life's first and only Vodou Museum...

The museum
is placed within a Louisiana styled house and tells the story of Vodou as a
religion, and the history of Haiti the country in which it is most actively
practiced. Haiti was the location of the world's first successful African
slave revolution, and its history and religious practice shows the pain and
anger felt during those times. Added to this is a distinct sense of
revelry and celebration - making Haiti a country of stark contrasts.

Vodou is a religion that envelopes the lives of those who practice
it, and this is reflected amongst the exhibits shown within. As you are
making your way around the museum, please click on the different objects that
you are interested in and you will be given an explanation as to their meaning
and context within Haitian life. Please understand that this is a dynamic
exhibit and things are likely to be added or updated, so please visit again in
the future to see the new things that we have in store...

As the running of the G.:L.:P.: lots is not free, we ask that visitors to the museum
please give a nominal sum at the door to help with the maintenance and running
of the museum. The amount given is up to you and could range from 1L -
1000L; but we recommend a donation of 20L as this is an amount that costs the
individual very little but can help us out in the long run a great deal.

Thankyou for your visit and we hope that you enjoy the

G.:L.:P.: Council

I’m in the middle of classes all this week (an intensive week for a course in my Museum Studies programme – my other research ara, and one with enormous potential in SL) so I’m a little short on time, and haven’t had my usual exploration time in SL. So, more to come, maybe even with photos and links. Until then...

Dan Walker.

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