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Teaching Anthropology and Religion in VR

One of the most difficult parts of teaching anthropology during the pandemic was keeping students engaged. For highly conceptual topics, such as cross-cultural explorations of religion and alternative metaphysical systems, it was very difficult for students to stay engaged on a Zoom window for an entire class period. To boost engagement, I designed a VR field trip using the Mozilla Hubs app. Like an online game, Hubs allows users to interact in virtual worlds and communicate in real-time using an avatar system.

With this in mind, I designed a virtual world and field trip for my cultural anthropology students. More specifically, this field trip would be focused on the topic of religion, particularly the West African-inspired of Vodou found in Haiti. Built using ethnographic photos (from ethnographer Dr. Alissa Jordan - UPenn), the virtual field trip focused on a Vodou peristil - a place of healing and spiritual/ancestral worship.

Fig. 1 VR Field Trip to Vodou Peristil in Mozilla Hubs

During the field trip, the students were able to ask questions, interact, and explore. Using my avatar, I toured students through the environment, highlighted important religious objects, and explained how spiritual entities called the lwa inhabited environments while interacting with practitioners in places like the peristl the students were visiting.

Later, test scores proved that students had learned a great deal more from the VR field trip than from other non-VR lessons (on Zoom). This wasn't surprising. That said, what was surprising was the number of students that commented on the VR field trip noting that it was the most memorable class experience they had yet had during their college career.

If you liked this and want to learn more, reach out. Visit the Hubs Vodou World: CLICK HERE

Also, check out my Epic of Gilgamesh VR Museum here (preview image below): CLICK HERE

Fig. 2 Epic of Gilgamesh VR Museum Exhibit


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