At Religion Dispatches Rachel Wagner writes about how online identity can inform real world religious experience:

The opportunity to explore new religious “territory” is aptly seen in the case of the Muslim woman who attended synagogue in Second Life because she had been curious about Judaism but felt too self-conscious to attend a real-life temple service. The woman chose to wear her hijab in Second Life while attending the virtual synagogue, presumably so closely identifying with her avatar that she wanted it to be modest in its pixellated portrayal of herself in the online world.

She appears to be enacting what [Polish artist and game theorist Miroslaw] Filiciak defines as the “opportunity to painlessly manipulate our identity, to create situations that we could never experience in the real world because of social, sex-, or race-related restrictions.” As Nillson wonders about Rita’s encounter with the Muslim men: “Would these men have felt comfortable having this conversation in the physical world, especially with a woman involved?” In Second Life, however, such new encounters are possible, and it is precisely due to the artifice, or at least the hybridity, of identity that the online world invites. It seems that online encounters in places like Second Life have the potential to broaden our sense of self because they enable us to see other selves as real, even when these selves are presented only in a virtual form. People from vastly different belief systems can “speak” directly to one another, protected by the “masks” of their avatars.

Read the full post here, and see a previous here & there post about Muslims and virtual communities.