Original Research - Special Collection: VukaniBantuTsohangBatho - Spirituality of Black Liberation

Unpacking the meanings of ‘virtual spirituality’ in Vuyani Vellem’s critique of Empire

Jakub Urbaniak
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 3 | a6204 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i3.6204 | © 2020 Jakub Urbaniak | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 June 2020 | Published: 11 December 2020

About the author(s)

Jakub Urbaniak, Department of Historical and Constructive Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa; and, St Augustine College of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa


The modest goal of this article is to creatively unpack and render more accessible (mainly by means of cultural illustrations) Vuyani Vellem’s account of the virtual spirituality of Empire. Geared towards the maximisation of the economic profit by the elite at the expense of the poor, today’s Empire is a result of the unprecedented convergence of the military, political, economic and cultural powers, along with advanced sciences and technologies. All these forces are mediated through a particular kind of deadly spirituality, which is propelled chiefly through virtual images. Whether it manifests itself through an act of a political manipulation or through unconscious assimilation of the historically oppressive forms of religiosity, an imperial logic invariably leads to the ‘capture’ of the spiritual assets for political and/or economic ends, instead of God. As such, it reveals the fundamental incompatibility of these resources with their source of inspiration. What Vellem refers to as virtual spirituality appears, then, as a fatal disequilibrium of powers between the innermost being and the exterior. Whilst Empire’s ‘hardware’ in an age of informatics consists primarily of weapons of war, its ‘software’ ranges from ubiquitous marketing imagery to the variety of fetishised cultural-religious symbols. A virtual modus operandi implies that images are deceptively projected as ‘needs’ rather than ‘wants’, and an unsatisfiable spiritual hunger is generated. As such, it is utterly self-referential. By contrast, an authentic experience of participating in the world process finds its congruent expressions in the public domain and notably in the spiritual praxis of liberation.

Contribution: This academic article contributes to sustainable goals such as poverty alleviation, combatting inequalities, good health and well-being, and peace, justice and strong institutions.


African Christianity; black faith; disequilibrium; empire; ethos; image; imperial; informatics; spirit; virtual; virtual spirituality; Vuyani Vellem


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Crossref Citations

1. Ubufundisi bonyana womgquba: In memoriam of Vuyani Shadrack Vellem
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