Religion: the first virtual representation of reality

Daniel Byers '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University, Spring 2005

Cyberspace & Critical Theory

In his analysis of the real, unreal, and hypereal, Baudrillard touches upon a topic which was arguably the first virtual representation of reality: religion.  Though the connection between today’s concern about ultra-realistic virtual realities and religious symbols may seem peculiar, they do in fact have stirring similarities.  In the following, Baudrillard explores religion and religious symbols with the consideration of simulation and simulacra.


Outside of medicine and the army, favored terrains of simulation, the affair goes back to religion and the simulacrum of divinity: "I forbade any simulacrum in the temples because the divinity that breathes life into nature cannot be represented." Indeed it can. But what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme authority, simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or is it volatilized into simulacra which alone deploy their pomp and power of fascination -- the visible machinery of icons being substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of God?


1. Considering simulation, simulacra, and representation, how many of these roles do religious symbols fill?  How many are present in religion?  Examples?

2. Idol worship has always been considered an evil in Christianity, yet Christians employ statues of Christ, saints, Mary, and the symbol of the cross to represent their religion.  In today’s highly streamlined religion, have these symbols become as strong focal points of worship as the things they represent?

3. Assuming major religions are now Simulacra, how far down the simulation chain did they have to go?  Did they start by simulating real observed events—natural phenomena, for instance, and develop from there into a system of faith-based simulacra? 

4. Is the power of religion in its status as simulacrum, ie, causing people to believe in something wholly devoid of reality-based substance?References

Baudrillard, Jean. "Simulacra and Simulations" in Selected Writings Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. 166-184.

Website Overview Theory Jean Baudrillard

Last modified 14 March 2005