"Wandering Through Life"—Introducing Philosophical Practice with Children and Adolescents in the Church of Norway
Project presentation by Øyvind Olsholt, Co-Director of Children and Youth Philosophers, Norway
Eva Marsal, Takara Dobashi, Barbara Weber (eds.):
Children Philosophize Worldwide—Theoretical and Practical Concepts
Band 9 in Hodos—Wege bildungsbezogener Ethikforschung in Philosophie und Theologie,
published by Institut für Philosophie und Theologie der Pädagogischen Hochschule Karlsruhe
Peter Lang Verlag
Frankfurt am Main 2009
In 2006 Children and Youth Philosophers commenced a project in the Church of Norway named "Wandering through life". Besides Children and Youth Philosophers the project involves three church organisations: Youth Chorister's Association, The Pilgrim Priests and Liturgical Centre. Together we search for parallels as well as incongruities between philosophical and religious practice—in particular we want to look into the relationship between pilgrimage and philosophical dialogue. Also an important aim of the project is to educate and train church youth leaders enabling them to lead philosophical dialogues with children and youth in the Church of Norway. The project runs through 2008.
- 1 Description of the project "Wandering through life"
- 2 Philosophy and pilgrimage
- 3 Philosophical training course
- 4 Pilgrimage and philosophy in Dovrefjell National Park
- 5 Religious and secular humanism: different takes on (the same?) philosophical practice
Downloads and discussion
2 Philosophy and pilgrimage
Take a typical pilgrim: she walks at slow pace, in solitude, even when she walks in the company of others. Maintaining a steady walking rhythm she moves pensively and peacefully, travelling as much in her own mind as in the physical world that surrounds her. As she walks she becomes increasingly aware of a multitude of thoughts and feelings, but by the end of the day only the most solid and "down-to-earth" thoughts remain in her head. It is as if the contemplative wandering makes the superficial and insubstantial thoughts—thoughts that often occupy the better part of our consciousness in everyday life—evaporate in thin air.
Now, take a typical—or should I say ideal—philosophical enquirer: she too moves at slow pace, carefully passing from statement to statement, from argument to argument, from question to question, identifying each phrase before moving to the next. She too is concentrated, at home with herself so to speak, even when she partakes in a group. She too digs deeply into her own mind, not in order to make for an escape from the outer world, but in an effort to bring forward the meanings of—and interconnections between—the spoken words, both her own and those coming from her co-enquirers. Also, one could say that after a philosophical session only the most solid, well-founded and substantiated thoughts remain in the consciousness of the enquirer. Irrelevant examples, unsupported claims, fanciful suppositions, wild ideas and other loose ends bounce off as the intellectual drama of the dialogue comes to a head.
But there are more—and more profound—similarities between Christian pilgrimage and philosophical enquiry. Let us look at four stages often used to describe the process of pilgrimage:
Abraham, the first pilgrim, was promised new land and a blessing from God. So, when entering upon his new, nomadic life, he was full of expectation. Like Abraham a pilgrim has great expectations to her journey: she hopes for a divine intervention, or at least to open up to God, and to discover new meaningfulness in the company of other pilgrims.
Like Abraham, who could no longer live his old life having received a promise from God, a pilgrim breaks up from her old life and habits. Also, in the life of a Christian, there is a perpetual need of breaking up from sin, convenience, conformism, from stale relations and lack of love.
- The wandering
For a pilgrim the way towards the goal is a goal in itself. Jesus says: "I am the way, the truth and the life." While she wanders she gains a clearer image of Jesus. The wandering generates a "magnet" within, pulling her towards her port of goal. Indeed, life itself becomes a pilgrimage towards a sacred goal. And despite the fact that she mainly walks in silence and solitude, she gradually opens up to other people, to nature and to the world. Gradually she is filled with love and thankfulness, hence with an urge to express herself, to make herself visible and public.
- The destination
For the Christian pilgrim Jesus is not only the way, but the destination too. So, metaphorically, reaching the destination is reaching and receiving Jesus. In a wider perspective one now realises more clearly that life itself is the true pilgrimage making this concrete, particular pilgrimage a stretch on the long way towards eternal life. Physically the pilgrim has now reached her sacred place, lays down her staff, pauses and reflects on her life, prays for forgiveness and rejoices with the other pilgrims in the praise of God.
Now, compare these four stages with the process of philosophical enquiry as we know it from Socrates and Plato and later from the basic principles of community of enquiry familiar from the philosophy for children-methodology:
Upon entering a philosophical enquiry we have certain expectations. We hope that the group will be able and willing to open up and thus to unveil meanings, arguments and daring hypotheses. We do not have a divine promise, like Abraham, but we do realise that we are bearers of a "philosophical wonder" that keeps urging us towards new and more fulfilling answers. This wonder is not our own invention, rather it reveals itself to us, gradually. We share with the pilgrim the expectation that the answers will come to us during the process, in due course—not through divine intervention or mystical revelation, but through rational and communal enquiry.
In the communal enquiry we communicate very differently from what we are used to. Therefore we too need to depart from our habits, from "convenience and conformism," from the desire to win discussions, from the stream-of-consciousness type of conversations so often seen in personal and professional contexts, from the general lack of attentiveness and presence in everyday communication. Breaking-up is difficult: it is always more comfortable to stay where you are. Therefore philosophers often entice us to make a leap into the uncertain, e.g. when Socrates cross-examines his interlocutors to the extent that they "become saturated with puzzlement" (Meno 80A-B), or when Kierkegaard stresses the necessity of objective uncertainty in order to reach subjective truth. According to Kierkegaard, a real breaking-up requires a leap over 70,000 fathoms of water, i.e. a leap of faith, a leap away from certitude and commonly established knowledge.
- The wandering
The wandering of philosophical enquiry is the never-ending oscillation between assumptions and arguments, between statements and examples, between hypotheses and derived consequences. Like for the pilgrim the process is a goal in itself. Philosophers do not usually walk with Christ, yet it is appropriate to say that they walk (i.e. think) in search of truth. Wandering with thought means wandering with truth in the sense that truth is the guiding star, the inner "magnet" with a potential to convert our life into a philosophical pilgrimage. Also our thinking does not exist in a vacuum, as little as the pilgrim wanders in splendid isolation. Our thinking thrives when we expose it to other people's opinions and judgements. We too are filled with joy and gratitude as we see our thoughts develop organically in the community of co-enquirers.
- The destination
Does philosophical enquiry have a goal, like pilgrimage has Christ as the ultimate destination? One could say that the enquiry has an ultimate goal, but not an ultimate destination. It has truth. Truth is an ideal not to be acquired but to give guidance to the on-going philosophical practice—cf. Socrates' "daimon," his inner voice, warning him of erroneous or inappropriate actions and judgements. So just like the latest stretch of wandering for the pilgrim is but a small part of life's wandering, so is a philosophical session for the philosopher a small but never insignificant step on the eternal road to wisdom and truth. And just as the pilgrim rejoices at the journey's end the philosophical enquirer rejoices every time she lucidly exposes an invalid argument, gives a striking counter-example to a particularly stubborn hypothesis, produces a reason that shifts the enquiry into another perspective etc. (with the possible exception of the enquirer whose arguments and hypotheses are being effectively challenged).
Having identified some similarities and differences between the two practices we can now move on to the project itself. I'll start by describing our first weekend training course, then give a report from our first pilgrimage weekend, arranged six months later.
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