Jr. Faculty Focus: Rachel Wagner

Rachel Wagner, assistant professor of philosophy and religion, began teaching at Ithaca College last August. She is currently conducting research (in collaboration with Kim Gregson of the Park School and television- radio grad Austra Zubkovs ‘07) on religious ritual in Second Life, a virtual world entirely created by its users.

How would you describe the relationship between virtual reality and religion?
In Second Life, users are building religious structures like churches and temples, playing Catholic priests, holding and attending masses in real time. There are even virtual Bibles and medicine kits. These are humanly created transcendent experiences and spaces.

What kinds of questions are coming up?
It really makes you think. Can good or bad karma be accumulated, or worked out, in a virtual world? If your avatar sins, is it you sinning? What does it do to a person to have multiple identities-the you in this world and the “you” in Second Life?

What do you most enjoy about teaching at Ithaca College?
The students -- they’re so curious and so naturally enthusiastic. I like my classes to be an exploratory experience. Whether my students believe in God or not, whether they have a religious background or not, I hope that they come to see religious studies as a way of understanding what it means to be human.