Community and Self-Discovery

For 15 years, students enrolled the University’s philosophy course PHIL 4326/5326: Lives Worth Living: Questions of Self, Vocation, and Community have learned about complex, existential ideas by living simply on the prairies of southwestern Minnesota.

The course, affectionately nicknamed “Philosophy Camp,” requires a three-week stay at Shalom Hills Farm, about ten minutes from the town of Windom. Students use the remote location and close interaction with others to examine themselves and their role in community.

“It’s experiential—students explore the idea of community by living in intentional community,” says the camp's assistant director David Holliday, who is also the Center for Community-Engaged Learning’s (CCEL) off-campus study coordinator.

The course stresses the idea that everyone’s interests and past experiences are equally important. Each day, campers participate in “acknowledgement” and “story” circles, where personal stories and shared experiences are used to examine the central question: what makes life worth living? Philosophy Camp’s structured activities use principles of democratic education to eliminate a hierarchical teacher-student relationship.

Students are given ample freedom to cook, talk, ponder questions, and engage in activities that are of interest to them—all together, students and instructors create an intentional, living-learning community.

While Philosophy Camp originated in the Department of Philosophy, it’s one of several domestic off-campus study programs CCEL manages with the goal of promoting community-engaged education and interactive, experiential learning.