Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Letter F - FOWLER, JAMES

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

According to Fowler's perspective, Stages 1 through 3 are in the foreground of spiritual development during childhood and adolescence. The stage transition from mythic-literal faith to synthetic-conventional faith is an especially major issue for children in primary and middle school age. The struggle with the emerging individuative-reflective style of faith has its primary time in middle and late adolescence.


It is Fowler's central assumption that development must not come to an end with Stage 4. In conjunctive faith (Stage 5), structures of dialogue, a thinking style of complementarity, and the appreciation of the other and potentially strange religions have overcome and left behind the rigors of defending the autonomy and reflective absolutism of Stage 4. Finally, the examples of Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Mahatma Gandhi illustrate the humility and total personal investment of sacrificing one's life for others and for the sake of humanity, which is characteristic of universalizing faith (Stage 6). Despite the fact that relatively few individuals develop a conjunctive style of faith-and universalizing faith in particular is extremely rare-these final stages are of crucial importance for Fowler's theory as they indicate the direction and the aim of faith development. In the profile of these final stages, faith development theory aims toward an answer to the predicament of modern religious culture in our Western societies between exclusive truth claims and careless relativism-an answer which, according to Fowler, corresponds to the theological vision expressed by the metaphor of the Kingdom of God.


Fowler is not only a theological and psychological theorist but also an empirical researcher. The empirical foundation of his major book, published in1981, consists of the considerable body of 359 faith development interviews. Research in faith development consists of an open-ended interview guided by a list of key questions about present and past relationships, about present values and commitments, and about religion. The answers are audio-recorded, transcribed, and then interpreted sentence by sentence to determine the stage of faith in each answer and finally in the entire interview.


The majority of Fowler's publications after Stages of Faith focus on a theological reinterpretation and grounding of faith development theory. This can be understood as a response to theological critics of faith development theory who diagnosed a lack of theological foundation in Fowler's 1981 book. Fowler's texts between 1984 and 1996 addressed themes such as vocation, the environment of the church, issues of religious and public education, questions of pastoral care in relation to faith development, and themes such as shame and guilt. In many of these contributions, however, we see the architect of faith development theory engage in correlations with psychological perspectives, among them Robert Keagan's theory of the Evolving Self and Ana-Maria Rizzuto's psychoanalytic view.

The inclusiveness of the concept of faith and of the theory of faith development point to a characteristic trait of Fowler's thinking which has attracted many colleagues in theology, religious studies, and psychology of religion and inspired them to welcome and advance theory and research in faith development.