There has been a large debate in recent years on whether or not rituals performed online are considered sacred and/or legitimate. Christopher Helland’s article Ritual Online, he focuses on the observed definitions of what is believed to be a ritual, as well as whether or not religious rituals online can be considered sacred or not. His personal definition of ritual, “a purposeful engagement with the sacred (whatever the sacred may be for those involved),” breaks down into two focuses of “what ritual is” and “what ritual does.”
Specifically for my topic with Hinduism, it is important to understand how to combine traditional religious rituals with an innovative online experience. The majority of people that are online practicing their faith do not do so for any other reason than to further their spirituality with their God/gods. There is a lack of the sensual however when attempting to partake in such activities. Heinz Scheifinger goes further in depth on the difference between online and offline worship in her case study Hindu Worship Online and Offline. He speaks about the way pujas, or worship practices, that have certain physical, musical, and environmental aspects when being performed. This creates a huge gap between the physical and virtual versions of worship. It may be difficult for a Hindu to feel that religion is sacred while being performed on a screen in front of them, instead of at their own temple. Scheifinger however argues that these problems may be overcome by adding physical aspects to the virtual/digital culture of religious rituals. For example, creating a “clean” and “pure” surrounding for the computer mirrors how the environment would be during a puja in a Hindu Temple. Also adding incense and playing prayer specific music during pujas is another way to bring a more realistic feel and atmosphere to online worship.
The Hindu religion is a very old and traditional practice. It is a difficult concept for many to try and integrate such old world ideas with new innovations such as the internet. However, based on Christopher Helland’s article and Heinz Scheifinger’s case study, I do not believe that online ritual practices are something that can radically decrease the importance or spirituality of any participants. If anything, it should be a tool that bridges the gap between tradition and innovation, working towards strengthening the faith of Hindus everywhere.