RJ theory is used specifically in religious education and pastoral counseling: it is helpful to explain why everybody does not have the same religious views (because of stage differences) and where religious development is headed. However, not all of religious "development" is covered (for instance, conversion or change of denomination). Also, Oser emphasizes that accumulating religious knowledge and experience is equally part of religious development, not just changes in RJ stages (which new religious knowledge and experience may trigger).
Compared to Goldman's theory, the theory of Oser and Gmunder covers a wider area of religious development; Fowler enlarged that area even further.
FOWLER'S FAITH DEVELOPMENT THEORY
The origins of faith development theory (FDT) lie in the praxis of counseling. From the beginning, FDT aimed at illuminating a path persons follow from the origins and awakenings of faith through the interactive process of forming and reforming frames of meaning, in and between communities of shared traditions and practices. In addition to other inputs, the American theologian James W. Fowler has taken his cue also from Kohlberg's (and thence Piaget's) theory, but Fowler's FDT is based more broadly (too broad some say) than RJ theory.
Fowler defines faith as a composition, a dynamic and holistic construction of relations that include self to others, self to world, and self to self, all construed as being related to an ultimate environment. Faith is here seen as a multifaceted, central form of human action and personal construction. It is said to involve both conscious and unconscious processes, both thinking and (strong) emotions. Making use of both religious and nonreligious directions and forms, faith is the result of grappling personally with the relationships evoked. Fowler emphasizes that selfhood and faith develop together as a gradual and difficult sequence of constructions. Selfhood and faith concern the following eight dimensions:
1. Form of logic 2. Role taking 3. Form of moral judgment 4. Bounds of social awareness 5. Locus of authority 6. Form of world coherence 7. Symbolic functioning 8. Developmental level of self.
Fowler's seven faith stages are labeled (0) primal faith, (1) intuitive projective faith, (2) mythic-literal faith, (3) synthetic-conventional faith, (4) individuative (keep as is)-reflective faith, (5) conjunctive faith, and (6) universalizing faith.
It would vastly exceed the scope of this entry to describe in detail what happens at each stage and what is constructed with each dimension (1) to (8) (For further reading, see the "References and Further Reading" section.) To give a sense: The impact of dimension (1) is close to that described by the Goldman theory as far as Fowler's Stages 2, 3, and 4 are concerned. More complex, "post-Piagetian" forms of thinking permit a deeper religious understanding to evolve at Fowler's Stages 5 and 6. Similarly, the other dimensions develop from a basic, egocentric, literal view of role-taking, moral judgment, social awareness, of who is in control, whether and how the world coheres, the meaning and significance of symbols (such as the cross, water, etc.), and one's personal characteristics to a more differentiated and integrated abstract and more encompassing view of aspects (2) to (8). Each dimension contributes in its specificity to the construction of Fowler's overall faith stages.
Fowler's stages are assessed from intensive interviews about one's life tapestry, and hence an account of one's religious and spiritual development. A detailed scoring manual permits translation of the results of such an interview into FDT stages. As with RJ theory, FDT is used specifically in religious education and pastoral counseling: in its way it is helpful to explain why not everybody has the same faith (because of stage differences) and where faith development is headed.
As was pointed out, there are limitations to the stage-structural approach. To summarize, all structural theories emphasize commonalities of religious and spiritual development but do not address personal differences, at least not explicitly. Nor does the specific content of a given religion (rituals, holy scriptures, etc.) matter. Nevertheless, the stage-structural approach describing religious development in terms of stages offers a potential help for situating one's own development and for facilitating religious education and pastoral counseling.
Let us visualize much of what was said in this entry via three verses from a song ("Who Am I?" by Leonard Bernstein).
Who am I? Was it all planned in advance? Or was I just born by chance In July? Oh, who on earth am I? Did I ever live before As a mountain lion Or as a fly? My friends only think of fun; They're all such incurable tots! Can I be the only one Who thinks these mysterious thoughts?
Having read these verses, what thoughts may come to mind? There is here not only the helicopter view of one's entire life but also the search for what was before birth, issues at the core of many religions. A "family relation" with various animals is implied, on the one hand, and a difference with certain human friends, on the other. So, the songwriter, in his own way, makes the point that "All humans are alike, some are alike, none are alike" and thereby underlines the message of this entry.