Humanism is a democratic, secular and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
Humanists Malta is pleased to have been able to deliver a training programme under the name of EPIX – Exploring Pupils’ Inquiries on eXistential themes.
For centuries, Maltese cultural identity has been shaped by the Roman Catholic Church, and for decades Malta was considered virtually 100% Christian. However, things have been rapidly changing in recent years, with surveys showing that faith and mass attendance are sharply declining, especially amongst the young.
Given these societal changes, and as religion isn’t felt to be as relevant as it once was, we saw a need to question how younger generations form, and are guided in, their ethical values and philosophy of life. In 2014, with our encouragement, the Maltese government introduced the Ethics Education syllabus as an alternative to the default religious (Roman Catholic) classes. This was an important step towards encouraging students to question their ethical beliefs, but anecdotal evidence suggests this option is not available in all schools, and only a small percentage of parents/guardians choose it for their children, even where it is available.
Against this backdrop, Humanists Malta, in collaboration with the Dialogue and Existential Inquiry Platform in Malta, successfully applied for funding for the EPIX project. Our objectives were to engage Maltese youths in critical thinking exercises, and tackle a variety of youth-centred topics from an existential humanist approach. We aimed to collaborate with Maltese secondary schools in deepening students’ inquiry into existential themes beyond the curriculum, through the use of philosophy.
Targeted at 14 and 15 year-olds, we sought to present profound existential topics such as the meaning of existence, anxiety, the nature of personal identity, authenticity, the possession of free will, and discomfort – or fascination – with death.
Commencing February 2022, the project saw the research, design and execution of an interactive training programme, delivered in two schools and one youth centre by a variety of qualified and experienced tutors, with an accompanying student workbook.
Participants were encouraged to question more deeply and engage in healthy discussion with their peers, forming meaningful connections with self and others. Five dialogue-based, small-group, tutorials were spread over 12 hours:
- Journaling and Being Acquainted with the Self: Students were introduced to journaling – a tool to enable them to explore and form thoughts, and organise them into written notes.
- Intimacy: Given the age of students, we started by focusing on relationships. Students reflected on the difference between love and sex, intimacy, and healthy vs unhealthy relationships.
- Desire and Satisfaction: Next, we focused on desire and satisfaction by asking such as: What are your deepest desires? Which desires can never be completely satisfied? What does this say about us and our deepest needs?
- Essence precedes existence: Students reflected on what it means to be human and whether we have been designed for a particular purpose. If our human essence is not predetermined, we have lots of scope to define ourselves, create ourselves. Students found this idea liberating and full of possibilities.
- The Individual and Personhood: Building on the previous sessions, students were asked the central question “Who am I?” and guided to reflect on personal freedom and the responsibility it brings with it. “You can not do your homework but there are consequences”, as one student put it.
The project was funded for one year; however, we will continue in the future to deliver this training, and the material prepared for it, to Maltese youth in schools and youth centres, and plan to go further by extending it to different age cohorts in such as training centres, work environments and local communities.
This project has been funded by the Small Initiatives Support Scheme (SIS) managed by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector (MCVS) supported by the Ministry for Inclusion, Voluntary Organisations and Consumer Rights (MIVC).
by James Buhagiar, Vice-Chair, Humanists Malta