Written by Brittany Friesen
Jordan Loewen-Colón began his post-secondary educational journey with a Bachelor of Arts from Ohio State University and the hope of pursuing a career in law and politics. However, an oversaturation of opportunities at such a large school led to a dilemma, as his interests both personally and academically stratified into a plethora of fields and disciplines with no clear professional future. Upon graduation, he decided to pursue further education with a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. It was there that his interest in human stories began to focus as he considered the ways in which people create and experience different realities that distinguish between the sacred and the profane.
This interest led him to complete a doctorate at Syracuse University within the religious studies department where his work coalesced around the ideas of philosophy, technology, and religious experience within his dissertation work. While initially these topics seem distantly related, Jordan shares the connection that allowed him to merge his early religious studies work with his later interests in gaming, virtual reality and data ethics, saying that “studying religion has allowed me to broaden out and consider how all technologies, digital and otherwise, are out to change how we think, feel and experience the world.” He offers video games as an example that, like religion, regulates and influences our behavior and emotions through ritual action.
Jordan joined the academic community at Queens University through a research position on The Digital Cancer Twin Project. This project intertwines data ethics, health medicine, philosophy and computing within an interdisciplinary research team. Their research aims to explore the idea of an AI informed digitally constructed model of a cancer patient that can be used to diagnose and project the growth of the cancer within a patient’s body. Jordan noted that what makes this particular fellowship so unique is that it has embedded the discussion of data ethics within the process of developing the technology itself, unlike many other projects which bring the ethics in after the technology has been let loose in the world. “It’s a model that larger companies and research firms should consider more seriously” he says.
Jordan also continues to hold an avid interest in the concept of play, video games, and virtual reality within his teaching and research. He finds gaming exciting because of its untapped potential as a form of pedagogy. Jordan explains that too many people still consider games as a place of play for children, but fail to see how adults might take advantage of opportunities for critical play that allows for new learning to take place. He explains that unlike other media, “what games add is an element of action and in doing so… your body learns it differently.” His work teaching students in classes such as History, Religion, and Video Games are opportunities to think carefully about play, video game technology and its design. “We need to be more critical about the things we engage in,” he explains and emphasizes the opportunities to use gaming and virtual reality within psychology, medicine and shaping the industry of gaming itself.
Although Jordan will always be active in the academic community, he hopes to transition into an industry role with a focus on technology or policy analysis in the next few years and continues to remain interested in research looking into video games, psychedelics, and virtual reality. Meanwhile, he will be teaching courses this fall that fuse religion, virtual reality, computer art, and artificial intelligence within the Religion and Computing departments of Queens, as well as finishing his current book Reality Technologies: The Religious Promises and Problems of Tech Culture (Fortress Press, 2024).