Call: Fictional Practices of Spirituality: Vol. I: Interactive Fiction

Call for Papers

Fictional Practices of Spirituality: Vol. I: in Interactive Fiction

Deadline for abstracts: 7 February 2021

Spirituality and narration are two deeply intertwined elements in the history of humankind. The epos of Gilgameš, perchance one of the earliest surviving narrative texts, already weaved central religious elements of Mesopotamic belief into a cardinal example of the hero’s journey. It is that basic dark earth in which fiction and narration grow their root, and from which they sprout their fruits (Vogler 1998). Through narration, believers invoke elements of their religious experience. Any time a rite is performed, they (re)tell and (re)experience elements of their foundational story and identity building. Religion, as Valliere argues, may be built through tradition or through narration (Valliere 1986). This can happen within or even beyond a formal religious structure. George Lucas’ Star Wars universe, for example, gave birth to Jediism, a spiritual movement that was recognized as a religion in the United States in the early 2000s. In the constant quest to understand religion and spirituality, scholars have considered the element of narration in its aspect of mythology, meaning the study of which system of stories and narration builds the myth of a society, its foundation.

What can be said about the current narrative production and the ways through which fiction is experienced in our day and age? Contemporary times call for such attention by scholars – after all, the importance of sanctuary fictional worlds has been a central revelation of 2020. In times of social distancing and lives under lockdown, alternative realities became elemental tools of spirituality, in the sense of meditative exercises of being (Welte 1978), and salvation for the reality-restricted human being. The individual sought peace, tranquillity, and meditation in media such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo 2020), a serene zen-game of housekeeping and self-caring that turned into one of 2020s most successful videogames, or episodic show formats like The Good Place (NBC, 2016-2020), which provided a gentle negotiation of hope and community. Contemporary cultural productions in narration, entertainment, infotainment, and participative art now have the power to give wreaders (the active reading protagonists of interactive fiction; see Mukherjee 2015) the chance to experience spirituality in ever-changing ways, both new and reminiscent of campfire storytelling of yore. Whatever one may call the ulterior theme of this trend: it gives reason for a novel evaluation of spiritual modes and expressions that find a virtual space to unfold in fictional worlds.

Fictional Practices of Spirituality is an upcoming two-volume anthology series providing critical insight into the current state of analysis of spirituality in interactive and non-interactive fiction. Fictional accounts of real-world religion have been subject to numerous analyses (cf. Johnston 2006, Lyden 2009), and the impact of new media on religious practice received much-deserved attention (Campbell 2013). Some are even attempting to develop a structured systematic theology from videogames (Bosman 2019). However, the peculiar function and exercise of spirituality in interactive art practices and fiction has thus far rarely been in the spotlight. Notable exceptions (Campbell and Grieve 2014, Steffen 2017) provided insight by portraying a specific perspective on institutionalised clerical work with computers and consoles, which we intend to adapt through a transcultural, transreligious, and, most importantly, a transcendental lens. The founding idea of this publication may be rooted in the philosophical understanding of spirituality as the in-between of limited self and the infinite momentum of wonder (Pascal 1929) but is certainly not tied to philosophy exclusively: we are inviting applications from different humanities perspectives, media studies, and from any academic who feels addressed by this call. Moreover, we invite practitioners in game development or game-related fields just as well to participate with texts about their experiences with the implementation of religion, belief, and spirituality in virtual worlds. This call for papers is for vol. I of the anthology, dealing with interactive fiction – may that be videogames, hyperfiction, digital artworks, role-playing games, or art installations dedicated to virtuality. Potential topic fields could, among many others, include:

  • Spirituality as gameplay facilitator (as in the Civilization series)
  • Sacred spaces and architecture in videogame geography
  • Religion in videogames: immersion and setting (ex. Assassin’s Creed saga)
  • -Spiritual acts and their dramaturgic function in videogames, tabletop, or LARP
  • Rites of play as spiritual practice, or playful spirituality

Contributions should not exceed 15.000 words (incl. abstract, references, and footnotes). If interested, please send your abstract (300 words max) including seven key words and a biography (200 words max.) and any questions related to the project to:

Deadline for abstracts is 7 February 2021.
Deadline for final paper submissions is 31 May 2021.

Editorial: Leonardo Marcato, PhD (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia) and Felix Schniz, M.A. B.A. (Universität Klagenfurt).

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