Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Zovinar Khrimian

A Visual Interface for Collective Ritual Experience | The Perceptual Mediation of Self-Transcendence and Social Interconnectedness in Contemporary Ritual Spaces

The social dynamics and psychological implications of collectivity have been considered within various disciplines and have been the subject of numerous theoretical works, including foundational inquiries within the field of sociology. However, a comprehensive investigation of how visual perception mediates experience in shared space, particularly the culturally-significant and emotionally-charged space of ritual practice, is markedly lacking in the literature on collectivity. Analyzing the perceptual mechanisms at play in the collective ritual environment not only illuminates the systems of interaction between the visual world and the participant’s subjective experience, but also provides a theoretical basis for the development of simulations of such experiences, through technologies such as virtual reality (VR).This project puts forth a comprehensive analysis of how the subjective states achieved in collective ritual environments, particularly those classified as self-transcendent experiences, are shaped by features in the visual field. Furthermore, it investigates how embodied aspects of ritual practice may be substituted with visual stimuli on account of their shared psychosocial outcomes, in order to determine the most effective program for simulating the collective ritual environment. These objectives consider the significance of sharing ritual space in establishing community and enhancing contemporary social and spiritual life, and thus, in a time where assembly is limited by the threat of infectious disease, a set of guidelines for developing a visual interface for collectivity may be particularly valuable.


Visual Component

This work was created to transport viewers into a ritual space. Rhythmic drum beats, glowing light fixtures, and ghostly “participants” fill the environment. Peering in, you may feel as though you are observing something you weren’t meant to see, but the space is nevertheless enticing. Inspired by the separation from one another we have experienced as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, this work is designed to simulate the feelings that emerge in the collective setting of the rave in a space emptied of other bodies. Before lockdowns and social distancing guidelines reshaped our social world, spaces of collective ritual offered us time apart from the mundane, a temporary zone of sacred togetherness that gave us distance from our ordinary selves.

Zab Johnson (VLST)
Donovan Schaefer (RELS)