The Quest for a New Digital Humanism

gpgrieve's picture

The Quest for a New Digital Humanism is a twenty-three-minute video that explores spirituality in the digital age. It was created by the American scholar of digital religion, Gregory Price Grieve, and voiced by the talented young actor Melat Ayalew. The Quest disrupts how the field of Religious Studies publishes its scholarship and opens new media channels by which researchers can disseminate their work.

The Quest is a machinima-fan-fiction-critique of the Romanian Historian of Religions Mircea Eliade.  Machinima refers to animated films that employ real-time computer-generated graphics, often from video games. The Quest employs screen shots from Fallout 4, a post-apocalyptic role-playing game released by Bethesda Game Studies in 2015. Fan Fiction refers to characters, settings, and narratives that are poached from mass-produced commercial works. It often operates as a moral critique that rewrites mass-produced texts to include the moral imaginings of marginalized groups.  

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a Romanian Historian of Religion, who played a pioneering role in the creation of the American academic discipline of Religious Studies. Eliade theorizes that “hierophanies,” breakthroughs of the sacred into the world, form the basis of all religion. He argues that religious practice does not merely represent hierophanies, but that practitioners actually participate in the original sacred event. To understand religion, Eliade pursued the method of comparative mythology, in which he sifted through all the world’s traditions to locate and document the various forms that hierophanies took.

Stylistically, The Quest is an experimental assemblage that pays homage to Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight (1963) and the genre of Let’s Play videos. Existing in that murky space betwixt and between documentary and visual poetry, experimental films rigorously re-evaluate cinematic conventions by exploring non-narrative alternative forms. Mothlight is a collage film that Brakhage created, without a camera, by pressing moth wings, flower petals, and blades of grass between two strips of 16mm splicing tape. Let’s Play videos document video game playthroughs, and differ from simple walkthroughs because they focus on the emotional, subjective experience of the gamer.