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Most theorists describing religious development using a structural approach assume that all humans are alike. From this perspective, a single theory of human development applies to all. This assumption does not deny that individual differences exist. However, as will be shown, the assumption of basic likeness is supported empirically.
A child's thoughts and feelings, ways of acting in the world and seeing it differ from the corresponding state of affairs for an adolescent and even more so for an adult. However, this development of one's religiosity and spirituality is not like reaching a destination by driving a car on an even road. It is more like climbing a mountain hidden in fog on a narrow path, sometimes needing to backtrack, sometimes needing to rest, sometimes needing to find anew an ascending trail.
Given the difficulties of the ascent, it is best to do the "climbing" as a member of a team, that is, to pursue religious development as a member of a religious community.
If circumstances do not permit this, it is still helpful to share one's experience with other religious seekers: for instance, to discuss the last advance, to bring out what was different from previous experiences, and to inquire about what to expect and observe on the next leg "up." In Eastern spirituality, development is presented metaphorically by a series of ox-herding pictures.
In the ox-herding pictures, the ox stands for an initial aim of religious or spiritual development. The developmental sequence is presented as (1) seeking the ox; (2) finding the tracks; (3) finding the ox; (4) catching the ox; (5) taming the ox; (6) riding the ox home; (7) forgetting the ox and being alone again; (8) forgetting both ox and one's self; (9) returning to the source; and (10) entering the marketplace with helping hands.
Jews (and others) can take the cue for a possible next step in their religious development from Job, who recognizes and confesses after much suffering: "I know that you [the Lord] can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' [asked God, Job 38:2]. Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me' [said God, Job 38:3]. I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:2-6, NRSV). Christians (and others) may follow the lead of the apostle Paul: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to my childish ways" (1 Corinthians, 13:11, NRSV). Again, not only for Christians, the life of Jesus may serve as an exemplar. When the hungry Jesus was tempted by the devil in succession about food, power, riches, and glory (Matt. 4:3-10; Luke 4:3-12), he explained why each time he declined the devil's invitation. In the "dark night" in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46) Jesus struggled to accept God's will, which involved his painful death on the cross, but finally did so. Mohammed plays a similar role in the development of Islamic spirituality (as noted in the Qur'an, surahs Al-Ahzab 33:21 or Al-Qalam 68:4).
How can one understand the developmental changes involved? As it often happens when dealing with complex occurrences that are not fully open to inspection by the senses, several explanations are advanced. Regarding psychological development, they come in three broad types of theories:
1. This kind of change simply develops inside humans as part of growing up, just like a plant grows from a seed.
2. We are born with a blank slate inside of us, and socialization from family, school, church, synagogue, mosque, or temple (and so forth) makes us what we have become.
3. We have a (structured) natural endowment, but it only develops according to its own "laws" through interaction with our physical and human surroundings (our family, culture, etc.).
Each of these theories is valid in a particular area. The first type of theory applies specifically to the body, for instance, to its brain size (and its height). A contrasting example follows: In the Middle Ages, the European Emperor Frederick II wanted to find out which language is the "natural" one and so forbade caretakers to talk to their babies; the fact that these babies never spoke supports the second type of theories.
In the end, the babies in Frederick II's heartless experiment died-thus validating the third type of theory, which will be the focus for the rest of this entry. We shall discuss the stage-structural theories of Ronald Goldman, James W. Fowler, and Fritz K. Oser and Paul Gmunder.
ALL HUMANS ARE ALIKE, SOME ARE ALIKE, NONE ARE ALIKE
To repeat, most theorists describing religious development using a stage-structural approach assume that all humans are alike. With this perspective, a single theory of human development applies to all. Stagestructural theorists provide evidence for their theories by, for example, explaining that in learning to speak, children always go through the same sequence of stages: babbling, uttering syllables, pronouncing words, and forming sentences, and this irrespective of which specific language is under discussion. Similarly, developing logicomathematical thinking always proceeds from arbitrarily manipulating things and observing what happens, to solving problems by manipulating concrete things in a logical manner, to solving problems in the head and in the process inventing and assessing all sorts of (hypothetical) solutions to a given problem. Analyzing these two examples shows that an inherent "developmental logic" is at work. That is, the reversed order does not seem likely.