Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels, in chorus, Sang as they welcomed his birth. “Glory to God in the highest! Peace and good tidings to earth.”
I happen to believe that this Community of Christ to which I belong has one of the most Christ-like (and philosophical) philosophies in the world – although, being human, we rarely live up to our ideals. In keeping with our evolving theology, the church keep rewriting its hymnal to try to articulate its latest understanding of Christ-like behaviour. While commendable, I find myself to be not in total agreement because many of these new understanding have replaced the old hymns that I have known and loved. Grrrr!
But to return to the stages of development of “faith” as reflected in Fowler’s research (1974, 1981)… Paraphrasing Rose Anne Karesh (2013):
Fowler proposed six (or seven, if you count infancy) stages of the development of relating to the universal and creating meaning.
Stage 0: (birth -2 years) Primal or Undifferentiated stage in which a very small child learns to rely on the goodness (or badness, or inconsistency) of the world based on how he or she is treated by its parents. This is very similar to Erik Erickson’s initial stage of human psychosocial development, Basic Trust vs. Mistrust.
Stage 1: (3 to 7 years ) Intuitive–Projective stage in which children are beginning to be able to use symbols and their imaginations. However children in this stage are very self-focused and inclined to take very literally (and self-referentially) ideas about evil, the devil or other negative aspects of religion. The ability to sort out reality from fantasy is not well developed.
Stage 2: (6-12 years, school age) Mythic–Literal stage in which information is organized into stories. These stories, along with moral rules, are understood literally and concretely. There is little ability to step back from the story and formulate an overarching meaning. A few people remain in this stage throughout their lives.
Stage 3: (Adolescence to early adulthood) Synthetic–Conventional stage in which people who believe do so without having critically examined their beliefs. They tend to believe in what they have been taught and in what they see “everyone else” as believing too. There is a strong sense of identity with the group. People in this stage are not very open to questions because questions are frightening at this point of development. People in this stage place a large amount of trust (or distrust) in external authority figures and tend not to recognize that they are within a belief system “box,” as their beliefs are internalized but have not been examined. Again, some people remain permanently in this stage throughout their lives.
Stage 4: (Adulthood) Individuative-Reflective stage in which a person begins to recognize they are in a “box” and look outside it. People in this stage ask questions and see the contradictions or problems in their beliefs. This can be a very painful stage as old ideas are now modified and sometimes rejected altogether. Some people give up on faith altogether at this point, but faith can be strengthened in this stage as beliefs become explicitly, personally held. There is a strong reliance on the logic, rational mind and the self.
Stage 5: (Usually not before mid-life) Conjunctive stage in which a person who has gone through the deconstruction of the Individuative-Reflective stage and begins to let go of some of the reliance on their own rational mind and recognize that some experiences are not logical or easily understood at all. The move here is from either/or to both/and; complexity and paradox are accepted and possibly even embraced. People in this stage are more willing to dialogue with people of other faiths, seeking further information and correction to their own beliefs, and are able to do this without letting go of their own faith.
Stage 6: Universalizing stage. Very few people reach this stage, which is characterized by seeing all of humanity as one brotherhood and taking profound, self-sacrificing action to care for all humanity because of this view.
It’s important to note that there are many critics of Fowler’s theories and the research that has been done to support them. Some of the criticisms are from religious circles and address Fowler’s definition of faith and express concerns about the non-religious content of his descriptions. Other criticisms come from psychological circles and address possible cultural and gender biases and question the way Fowler conceptualizes the self. One of the criticisms I find most relevant is that it is unlikely that progression through these stages is entirely linear particularly within the later stages, and that people show signs of moving back and forth between them. Despite all of this criticism, this model has been widely used and I find it useful as a tool for personal self-reflection. I also find it helpful when working with others to have a sense of where they might be in their development at that moment.