Re-Imagining Christian Education Through Neurodivergent Fellowship, Play, and Leadership in Online Videogaming




Christian Education, Fellowship, Leadership, Minecraft, Neurodiversity, Play, gamevironments


From Fall 2020 to Spring 2022, the Center of Theological Inquiry, funded by a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation’s Diverse Intelligences Initiative and in collaboration with Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, created a Minecraft (2011) videogame prototype titled The Spiritual Loop. This videogame prototype was designed and developed for fostering spiritual growth and connection based on ethnographic research with neurodivergent persons and their Christian faith communities in the United States. Considering the lack of access disabled persons experience with respect to Christian communities in the US (Carter 2007), alongside the disproportionate emphasis on educational and therapeutic outcomes with respect to neurodivergent gamers (Spiel and Gerling 2021), our participatory fieldwork with neurodivergent players led us to emphasize the game’s opportunities for spiritual connection versus mastery of biblical content or Christian virtues.

This paper highlights two findings with respect to gaming and Christian education. First, despite the consistent emphasis on fostering Christian community and connection, neurotypical players frequently mistook the game’s goal as Christian education, whereas neurodivergent players readily appreciated the game’s fellowship potential. Second, neurodivergent players seamlessly assumed leadership roles in online game play, confirming the ability of online communities to transform theological hierarchies (Campbell 2012). Based on these findings, we suggest that a bifurcation in fellowship and education in traditional Christian formation reflects ableist biases. The flexible, playful environment presented in online gaming spaces offers critical opportunities for fostering fellowship between neurodivergent and neurotypical Christians, as well as untapped opportunities for neurodivergent leadership to flourish in reimagining more accessible environments for Christian education.

Author Biographies

  • Erin Raffety, Center of Theological Inquiry

    Erin Raffety is a Lecturer in the Writing Program at Princeton University where she teaches on disability justice; a Senior Research Scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary where she oversees research with Christian congregations; and a Research Fellow with the Center of Theological Inquiry where she has conducted research on videogames, Christian communities, and Christians living with Long COVID and chronic illnesses.

  • Maria Insa-Iglesias, Glasgow Caledonian University

    Maria Insa-Iglesias, PhD, is a Data Visualisation specialist with expertise in data science, AI and user experience. Her primary interest lies in exploring novel applications of human-AI collaboration to facilitate more informed decision-making for a broader societal impact, with a commitment to fostering accessibility. Maria Insa is a Data Scientist/Visualiaser at Intelligent Growth Solutions, a leading vertical farming business, and in her free time, she continues to engage in research and workshops. From 2021-2022, she served as the Technological Fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University in collaboration with the Centre of Theological Inquiry to design and develop the pilot videogame for the Spiritual Loop project.