Fowler's Stages of Faith

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Orson
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Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by Orson » 04 Feb 2009, 15:02

“Stages of Faith” James W. Fowler (HarperCollins 1995)

The oft referred to work on faith development. This work of Fowler has helped untold numbers come to terms with their naturally changing, or “maturing” faith. Doubt is a natural and expected step in faith development, as is literalness and a transition into more meaningful metaphor. This work helped me welcome the “transition” or see how I need to “mature” in my views on faith to regain the positive relationship with the church that I desire. I was comforted in knowing there is a path FORWARD to this reunion, BACKWARD never seems very productive. Other points include how a mature faith becomes more comfortable with paradox, more compassionate and forgiving overall toward all the different faith traditions.

This is one of the works at the top of my recommended reading list. I hope to see more discussion on it in the future. Maybe when I get more time I'll add more comments.
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I first found faith, and thought I had all truth. I then discovered doubt, and claimed a more accurate truth. Now I’ve greeted paradox and a deeper truth than I have ever known.

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Re: Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by LadyWisdom » 04 Feb 2009, 17:51

I have not read the actual book, but Valoel shared a summary of his work from another link on a different board that I found very enlightening and it really hit home for me. The light went on about was happening during the whole journey of my crisis of faith. I have shared it with many people since then, including my bishop and got a positive response from it. I also like an essay that someone wrote on The Stages of Faith in the LDS church, by someone named Jeff, if I recall correctly. It really quite convicting to reality with the church's frame, so needless to say, that was one I didn't share with my bishop...figured he could find that one on his own as I planted the seed with the Fowler's link.

LW

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Brian Johnston
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Re: Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by Brian Johnston » 05 Feb 2009, 08:50

I haven't read the book yet. I picked up the meat of the ideas from the MormonStories interview on this subject, and from discussions with people elsewhere.

The system of describing faith development gives us important language tools to talk about and understand what we are going through. I agree with Orson that Fowler's ideas (and others with similar systems) played a key role in helping me on my journey. This information is VITAL for those of us called by God to pass through doubt in our life journey. I can't say enough about that. It has helped me and many other people I have talked to that struggle with faith.
"It's strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone." -John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, speaking of experiencing life.

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Re: Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by hawkgrrrl » 05 Feb 2009, 10:58

Here are some thoughts I shared elsewhere about Fowler's stages. IMO, it's most likely someone will be successful at reintegrating into the church as they move from Stage 4 to Stage 5, although that doesn't always happen:

Stage 3 - going along in whatever "normal" state; status quo for your upbringing or background (The majority of people fall into this category)
Stage 4 - questioning what you took for granted in Stage 3; negative emotion toward Stage 3 experiences
Stage 5 - acceptance or reconciliation; coming to terms with what you learned in Stage 4 and transcending above it
Stage 6 - gaining internal peace and wisdom, becoming a whole person with spiritual power and insight (This is a stage most people never get to, and I'm not sure there's much reason to aspire to it. Most Stage 6ers die as martyrs.)

So, if it's like a marriage, Stage 4 is like being separated. If you reconcile, you probably get back together. But you may not; in rare cases, maybe you don't get back together but you develop a friendship and decide to part ways (really rare in marriage especially). In any case, you develop mutual respect and can take the good and let go of the bad.

Unlike marriage, though, the church isn't a person. The church is comprised of too many people to accurately assign it character flaws (just an opinion). Whatever the church's "personality," it is largely colored by our own subjective experiences (e.g. our reactions to the things that happen to us, our personalities, the personalities of those around us). As a result, our experiences with the church (and our assessment of the church) differ greatly in each of the stages.

Stage 3 - the church is like a wise and protective parent; we trust it implicitly
Stage 4 - the church is like a parent whose flaws and mistakes are exposed at their worst
Stage 5 - the church is like a sweet grandparent that sometimes says wise things, sometimes funny or antiquated things, but is a benevolent forebear

I'm also optimistic that returning to belief in Stage 5 (on one's own terms, mind you) is likely because of:
- family ties - you have ties to the church that cause it to be unavoidable
- it's utilitarian - because of your upbringing, Mormonism is a familiar framework; you know how to work the "faith system" in a Mormon context; and now you know how to make it useful to yourself. You could leave and do that somewhere else, but you have to start from scratch. And maybe you are tuckered out from Stage 4.
- paradigm shift - the doubt of Stage 4 gives way to hope and open-mindedness in Stage 5, and being a believer on your own terms by choice is totally different from being a Stage 3 TBM, so it's not a redundant experience--it's progress.

Just some thoughts on Fowler.

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Orson
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Re: Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by Orson » 05 Feb 2009, 13:18

Thanks for your thoughts Hawkgrrrl, very well put. While I had a good idea of Fowler's stages from all the summaries and talk out there before I read the book, I still enjoyed it and found many moments of enlightenment as he explained the advanced stages in depth. It is not a fast and easy read, I should read it again to try to get more out of his complex thoughts. Not easy - but worth the effort in my opinion.
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Re: Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by Curt Sunshine » 05 Feb 2009, 15:10

As wordy as I can get at times, I like to try to distill things down to their essence. To me, the stages of faith concept means:

Stage 3: A black-and-white, unquestioning mindset. Understanding based on words of others. Desire to "convince" others. "External" peace.

Stage 3.5: Some questioning, but never to the point of threatening core assumptions.

Stage 4: Confusion and pain and anger caused by the shattering of Stage 3 mindset. Still a desire to "convince" - just not of previous beliefs. Easy to return to Stage 3, just with different beliefs - often articulated by opposite side of previous belief structure.

Stage 4.5: Some certainty after sorting through the rubble and finding some core personal belief structure. Beginning of recognition of personal responsibility - for self and for others.

Stage 5: Acceptance of personal responsibility. Peace in building individual paradigm. Pure acceptance of differing paradigms. Focus on sharing and strengthening peace of others, rather than convincing and challenging.

Stage 6: Very hard to define, but, in Mormon terms, I would say it is the internalization of perfection (becoming complete, whole, fully developed) within the context of an individual, non-judgmental path - one that focuses on what we become internally and not measured in any way in comparison to anyone else. I think it's more of a goal than a reality, but I do think it's an important goal - and I don't think mortality is truly "full" without at least a recognition of the need to be walking a Stage 6 path. It's being at complete peace with the gap between the ideal and the real - not only for one's self, but also for others. It's total acceptance of others simply for who they are, no conditions, no qualifiers. In a sense, it's unconditional love of self and all others.

There are MANY people who leave Stage 3, start through Stage 4, then return to the certainty of Stage 3 (usually to the opposite of their previous beliefs, but still as black-and-white) - never realizing that they no longer are progressing toward Stage 5. However, Stage 5 (maybe 5.5) requires one to accept and be ok with that - not "judging" them for doing so.

That's my take, anyway.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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Re: Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by HiJolly » 08 Apr 2009, 15:41

I think I'm in transition again. :roll:

I'm moving from 5 to 6 and back and forth again. I'm really needing to get serious about meditation/contemplation. I don't think I *want* to be 100% stage 6...


HiJolly
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Brian Johnston
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Re: Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by Brian Johnston » 09 Apr 2009, 07:15

In my view of Fowler theory, people are not in a single, exclusive "stage." The stages to me are more about creating a language to talk about ideas and attitudes. I think a person is in many stages, in different areas of faith, at the same time. People are very complex. We may tend to be acting out more of one stage at a certain time than another. It isn't so set in stone.

I do stuff like this: "Ahhh, that thought I just had. That is more stage 4 than 5." or "That person seems to be relating to this idea from more of a stage 3 perspective." It isn't that people are only one stage or another. It is helpful to have a language to talk about these perspectives, and how people are relating to religion and faith.
"It's strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone." -John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, speaking of experiencing life.

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Re: Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by Curt Sunshine » 09 Apr 2009, 14:26

Amen, valoel. I also think people tend to think too linearly and not recognize that someone who generally is Stage 3 might be Stage 6 in one or more area - and someone who generally is Stage 6 might be Stage 3 in one or more areas.

Ain't life fascinating? It's painful to be self-aware, but it's awesomely painful - once reconciliation to / appreciation for the pain is achieved.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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Re: Fowler's Stages of Faith

Post by Tom Haws » 09 Apr 2009, 14:47

As Swedenborg said in Heaven and Hell, even the angels in heaven have states like the dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night. None of us is static.
Tom (aka Justin Martyr/Justin Morning/Jacob Marley/Kupord Maizzed)
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Sure, any religion would do. But I'm LDS.
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