"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

Published in:

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
ISSN 1619-666X
ISBN 978-3-631-59329-5

p. 633-644


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.


Downloads and discussion

4 Pilgrimage and philosophy in Dovrefjell National Park

Dovrefjell is the name of a spectacular mountain range linking the south-eastern and the middle part of Norway. The Old Kings' Highway goes through the Dovre mountains and has been used by Norwegian kings since the Viking era. This historical road has also been used by countless pilgrims since the 11th century on their way to the famous Nidaros cathedral in Trondheim. This was the backdrop of our first pilgrimage weekend held in August 2007 comprising nine children/adolescents and five adults. Now, was there, as we had hoped and predicted, taking place a fruitful exchange between the two practices?

We spent three days trekking, covering in total 30 kilometres largely on plain mountain paths. Every morning and evening we had a dialogue session; one day we also had a midday session during a walking break. The first session had a simple opening question: "Why embark on a pilgrimage?" The youngest participant (11 yo) replied that she had joined because the weekend sounded fun. What in particular did she expect to be funny? Walking in the nature. An older participant expanded on this: pilgrimage is as much about walking in the mind as in the nature. But what does it mean to "walk in the mind?" A third participant suggested that it has to do with the "transformation of thoughts and feelings." The key word was "transformation." Pilgrimage, walking in the mind, is about the transformation of the mind, said one boy, a transformation that is more or less equivalent with what we understand as "religious conversion." But what if we don’t experience a transformation or conversion during our pilgrimage, have we then failed to walk in the mind? No, the discovering of the workings of our own consciousness, the multitude of unanswered questions and unquestioned answers, is just as important a goal for a pilgrim and represents a small transformation in itself.

In the evening that day, enjoying the cosy atmosphere of a traditional mountain cottage, we gathered around the fireplace for our second session which morphed into an attempt to define happiness. One adolescent claimed that happiness is at its peak when we look forward to something—i.e. expectation is preferable to the fulfilment of the expectation. The children, however, agreed with one of the adults who found that expectation and fulfilment are equally important: they complement each other.

Next morning one child wanted to know why we do philosophy. I asked the group that found that just as the body needs exercise so does our mind. And again it was emphasised that philosophical practice helps us realise our own questions and answers. The next session that evening started with a reading from 2 Samuel 12 where the prophet Nathan rebukes king David for killing Uriah the Hittite and taking his wife Bathsheba to be his own. Even though we read the text aloud several times it proved very difficult for most of the participants to retell the plot using their own words, so we spent some time just getting familiar with the story. Then we tried to pin-point the most controversial or thought-provoking aspect of the story. According to the group this was when David said "I have sinned against the lord" to which Nathan replied "The lord has taken away your sin." But is it enough to admit your sins in order to remove the sins? And if your sin is taken away, are you then forgiven as well? We wrestled enthusiastically with these and other questions relevant to the text until it was time to turn in for the night.

After this weekend I see more clearly the value of trying to attain philosophical-analytical awareness in combination with religious-mystic/mythic presence. Indeed, the weekend proved to be at the same time enlightening, awakening and reviving—even for me, the only non-Christian in the group. The steady but never monotonous walking, mostly in silence in this hauntingly beautiful mountain area, hour after hour, caused a mild cacophony of voices and perceptions to emerge in the minds of the participants (at least it did so for me), a cacophony that in turn made the structured philosophical dialogues that followed seem just as rewarding and fulfilling as the evening meals. The walking made us hungry, physically and spiritually. Our minds were as attentive and vigilant as ever after a long day's walk, although our bodies were exhausted. One could perhaps sum it up by saying that just as the time prayers during the weekend were recurring feasts for the spiritual self, so the philosophical dialogues were recurring feasts for the rational, thinking, deliberating self.


Page created: 10.12.07. Page last modified: 13.08.09 01:26.