Tech companies are investing in the metaverse and increasingly recognizing that religious communities, some which have already been meeting in virtual reality, will play a key role in the digital future. Many questions remain, however, as to whether that relationship will be good for the religious communities themselves or merely prioritize profits through engagement at any cost.
The metaverse is an immersive virtual world where people can interact with one another. It spans across companies, applications, and games, and aims to change how we interact with technology itself. Proponents of the metaverse are keen to emphasize its ability to rearrange the world into something that truly blends the virtual and physical; they stress the metaverse’s potential to contain entire economies and to be “interoperable” by letting people move seamlessly, with the same avatar or items, into multiple spaces owned by different companies.
In October 2021, Facebook was renamed and rebranded as Meta, signifying another shift from one of the big five tech companies to focus on building the metaverse. Earlier that year, Zuckerberg spoke about why he sees the metaverse as the next major development of the internet: “You can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it.”
Last year, Meta also told The New York Times about studies that the company had conducted with church communities starting in 2017, learning both how faith communities leverage platforms like Facebook to gather people and thinking about how to potentially develop that relationship. According to this report, Meta’s aim is to “become the virtual home for religious community,” and the company “wants churches, mosques, synagogues and others to embed their religious life into its platform.” Reflecting a larger trend, many institutions—including religious ones—are becoming interested in the metaverse’s possibilities, and with that interest, increased formalization and monetization are likely to follow.