Fowler Theory - Research 6520

Marian A. Ford
EDHE 6520
Dr. Baier – Spring 2009
Biography of Fowler
1940 Developmental psychologist
 Director of the Center for Faith Development and Center for Ethics at
Emory University
 Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University
 United Methodist minister
 Published author
 Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development
 Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian
 Faith Development and Pastoral care
 Faithful Change
 To See the Kingdom
Why Did He Develop His Theory?
 Believes faith more than religion or belief is most fundamental
category of human quest for relation to transcendence.
 Believes that faith is the primary motivation for individual’s life
 Believes faith is a holistic orientation and is concerned with
individual’s ability to relate to what is universal
 Goal was to chart faith development throughout individual lifespan in
order to characterize common faith stages and transitions that
separate them
Stages of Faith
 Faith is the universal human activity of making meaning and giving
shape to how humans infer and relate to themselves and the world
around them.
 Modeled after Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg’s theories
 Developmental path of person's way of making sense of and relating
to “ultimate” environment
 Used to influence pastoral care, development psychology and
religious education
Theory Used to Evaluate How
Students Change in College
 Cognitive-structural model
 Describes spiritual development and cognitive process
 Concerned with process where student comes to subscribe to
particular beliefs held by them
 Relational nature of beliefs and meaning involves students’
interactions with others and commitment to higher being as origin
which gives students meaning and purpose
 Implications of faith stages can be related to perceptions of members
of out groups and attitudes towards those similar and dissimilar from
Seven Stages of Faith
 Pre-stage or primal stage
 Stage Four : Individuate or
 Stage One: Intuitive or
Reflective Faith
 Stage Five: Conjunctive Faith
 Stage Six: Universalizing
Projected Faith
 Stage Two: Mythic or Literal
 Stage Three: Synthetic or
Conventional Faith
 Occurs during preverbal year
 Mutual Interaction between infant and primary caregiver
 Provides foundation of faith
Intuitive (Stage 1)
vs. Mythic (Stage 2)
Projective Faith (1)
 Usually children aged 3-7
 Fantasy filled imitative phase
 Children can be influenced by
examples, moods and actions
and stories of related adults.
 First awareness of death and
sex, ability to grasp
 Transition occurs when there is
concrete operational thinking
and resolution and distinction
between reality and non-reality.
Literal Faith (2)
 Usually school-aged children
 Person tells stories, has beliefs
and makes observations.
 Moral rules, attitudes and literal
 Impacted by symbolic and
dramatic materials
 Transition occurs when implicit
clash between stories which
makes child reflect.
Synthetic (Stage 3)
vs. Individuate (Stage 4)
Reflective Faith (4)
Conventional Faith (3)
 Usually arises in adolescence
but could remain permanent
stage in adults
 Experience of world extends
beyond family, school, work
and media; ego is dominant
 Transition occurs when
contradiction between valued
authority exists, encounters
experience to lead to reflection
of values ( i.e.. Leaving home)
 Usually occurs in adolescence
or early adult
Burden of responsibility for own
lifestyle, attitudes and beliefs
Shift from dependence on
others’ spiritual beliefs to
development of own
Restless with outlook and selfimage; existential anxiety sets
Transition occurs when critical
reflection on identity and hears
inner voices
Conjunctive (Stage 5)
vs. Universalizing (Stage 6)
Conjunctive (5)
 Usually occurs in mid-life, if at
 Integration into self and outlook
of what was suppressed and
unrecognized in previous stage
 Strives to unify opposites in
mind and experience
 Rise of ironic imagination and
appreciates other’s rituals
because own view is so deep
Universalizing (6)
 Usually occurs in older adults if
at all
Very rare
Search for universal values,
unconditional love and justice
Often referred to as
Examples include Gandhi and
Mother Theresa
Faith Development Interview
 Semi- clinical interview developed by Fowler’s research
 Focuses on significant life experiences and meanings to person
 Optional autobiographical questionnaire (Life Tapestry Exercise) can
be filled out prior to interview (established 1986)
 Sensitivity used by interviewer; lasts 2-3 hours
FDI Measurement Areas
Four broad areas
 General life review
 Review of life-shaping experiences and relationships
 Description of present values and commitments
 Specific questions about religion ( i.e.. Relationship of religion to
 Certain questions may be in order and form, but structure of
interview and flow based on how previous questions are being
FDI Scoring Measurements
 Scoring made by comparing answers to formal stage descriptions;
specific stage level guidelines for seven stages
 Benchmarks used and Manual for Faith Development Research
 Add scores for each response under each location and divide by
number of response
 Arithmetic average, combined and averaged to yield overall score
 .39 or less round down, .70 or higher round up, between
represents subject in stage transition
Limitations of FDI
 Great amount of time needed to
 Heavy focus on scoring guide
administer interview
 Dependent on clinical
sensitivity and training with
administrators and scorers of
 Uncovers cognitive dimensions
of faith rather than affective or
on structural elements of faith
in stage determination
 Computing arithmetic average
flattens out score
 Hard to determine if personality
of person plays a role in
evaluating faith development
measures and theory
Strengths of FDI
 Best validated instrument designed to measure stages
 Encompasses all structural elements Flower proposes
 Includes cognitive and relational affective dimensions of faith
 Could prove that some college students reach stage five prior to
middle age
Theory Has Been Used to Show
Affects of College Students
 Individuals’ perceptions of group membership and individuality
 Primary orientation to social activity and peer-group
 Can use to predict how people in stages view others who are similar
and dissimilar
 Can be important to understand; measure impact upon aspect of
one’s behavior
 Stages help evaluate how students might relate to others most like
Positive Aspects of Theory
 Helps evaluate members of in-groups and out groups
 Those in same stages could react differently in some ways from
others in later faith stages
 One’s faith stage can have important impact upon aspects of
student’s behavior
Limitations of Theory
 How does one measure the stages of faith as opposed to different
types of faith?
 How does one determine if students are just attracted to sentiments
in particular stage when not actually living by the ideals?
Questions for future studies
 What is the student’s primary orientation to future family role?
 What is the student’s primary orientation to future professional role?
 How can students seeking their identity help manage their personal
problems, ideology and values?
Other Measurements Used
Faith Styles Scale
 Questionnaire for only adults
 Non open-ended questions
 Not given by trained administrators
Faith Development Scale
Questionnaire with forced choices
Paired item scale usually used with only adults
 Conn, Joann (1986).Stages of Faith. Women's Spirituality:
Resources for Christian Development. 226-232.
 Fowler, James W. (1981). Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human
Development and the Quest for Meaning. New York, New York:
Harper & Row.
 Green, Charles (1989).Stages of Faith and Perceptions of Similar
and Dissimilar Others. Review of Religious Research. 30(3), 246254.
 Parker, Stephen (2006).Measuring Faith Development. Journal of
Psychology and Theology. 34(4), 337-348.
References cont.
 Streib, Heinz (2005).Faith Development Research Revisited:
Accounting for Diversity in Structure, Content, and Narrativity of
Faith. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. 15(2),
 Streib, Heinz (2004).Extending Our Vision of Developmental Growth
and Engaging in Empirical Scrutiny: Proposals for the Future of Faith
Developmental Theory. The Religions Education Association. 99(4),

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