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Ragnhild Strauman: The Church Musician's role in Christian education in the Church of Norway

How does the church musician describe her role in the religious education in the Church of Norway, and what kind of reflections on music pedagogy and music philosophy can be found?

Field of study: Music Education


By implementing the new reform (since 2003) on Christian education, the position of Church musicians, his/her colleagues and the way of thinking about children's experiences and development through music is challenged.

This study is based on the Faith Education Reform, commenced by the Norwegian Parliament in 2003. The education centre for the Church of Norway in the north (KUN/VID Tromsø) was awarded research funding from the General Synod of the Church of Norway in order to study hymn singing as a part of the Christian education. This research expanded into a doctoral study at the Norwegian Academy of Music, resulting in this thesis: Singing Hymns and Songs in the Christian Education Within the Church of Norway: Music Educational Activity in a Non-formal, Religious Educational Context.

The title refers both to the content and to the field of research to which the study relates; it actualizes the use of hymns and songs in a faith education perspective, placed as music pedagogical research in a limited ecclesiastical, religious pedagogical context. In Norway, this is a virtually unexplored field which deserves greater attention. The purpose of the study was firstly to find out which hymns and songs are sung in connection with activities for children and young people in the Church of Norway, secondly to investigate how church musicians and parish educators reflected on their choices and their role in faith education.

Research question and material

The main research question for the study is: What educational pedagogical perspectives are expressed in repertoire choices and the informants’ reflection on this, and what significance can these perspectives have for essential thinking in church music pedagogy?

The data material consists of questionnaires and interviews, where findings from two different collection and analysis methods are analyzed both individually and in connection with each other (mixed methods). The collection was made in the period 2015–2017 and started with obtaining information including hymn and song selections from 48 congregations, divided into 11 dioceses. The questionnaires were then followed up by interviews with 8 church musicians and 4 catechists, based on findings from the questionnaires.

Theoretical framework

The scientific theoretical framework of the study is critical realism. I utilize ontological realism, the critical judgment and the epistemological relativism as explained by Margareth Archer, Doug Porpora, Andrew Collier and Andrew Wright, more specifically a critical realism that also relates to the existence or non-existence of God. A hermeneutic approach to the data material serves as a bridge between the critical realism and the pedagogical theory of Bildung as a basis for analysis, findings and discussion, which in total constitute the study’s contribution to the research field.


The study shows that there is a great variety in the choice of hymns and songs and that both church musicians and catechists view music education in the church as an important approach to Christian knowledge and practice. Criteria for hymn selection are also justified aesthetically, ritually, and intergenerationally, but the reflexive and the existential dimension are weakly articulated in the data material. When working with children’s choirs, the church musicians choose more varied in terms of genre than the parish educators do, while the parish educators choose more songs with contents aiming at interpreting life and mastering the art of living. On the basis of the concept of Bildung, mainly as it is presented by Wolfgang Klafki, Frede V. Nielsen and Dietrich Benner, I have tried to illuminate the reflexive and the existential dimension as part of the music pedagogical activity. The double-sided opening, the music layer of consciousness and the multifaceted universe, as well as the pedagogical paradox that deals with the child’s Bildsamkeit and the non-affirmative call for self-activity are essential elements for a church music pedagogical basis for thinking. Here I have also introduced hymnicking – “to hymn” as the church’s answer to Christopher Small’s concept of musicking.

The children’s and youth choirs in the Church of Norway are good examples of a music pedagogical activity that also relates to spirituality and faith. When children are brought up to and through music, it implies an open teaching, where the child himself must encounter a learning material that opens the world to the child, and where the child opens up to the world. The child who is not exposed to indoctrination, but experiences respect for asking questions, reflecting and making his or her own choices, has the best conditions for developing his or her own ability for life interpretation and mastery of life. This places demands on the church’s employees to see the church’s music teaching as part of the child’s aesthetic upbringing, in collaboration with school, home and society. An upbringing that not only has a religious pedagogical aim, but also an aesthetic, ethical and political aim. The music educational activity in the non-formal, religious pedagogical context should, in short, be able to help the child to find his place in his own life, in himself and as a world citizen.

The dissertation

Title (translated from Norwegian): Singing Hymns and Songs in the Christian Education Within the Church of Norway: Music Educational Activity in an Non-formal, Religious Educational Context

The dissertation comprises three articles and an introduction. It is available in NMH's digital archive.

The dissertation language is Norwegian.

Published: Oct 17, 2016 — Last updated: Mar 31, 2024