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James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 22 Jul 2009, 11:58
by Brian Johnston
I am putting up a list of handy references about James Fowler's Stages of Faith. I thought this would be handy for new people that visit our site. We often reference these in posts here at StayLDS. You might see someone talk about "Stage 3" or "Stage 4" thinking. We are talking about this researcher's theory of psychological development.

Please note: This theory is just a way to give us some new language to talk about faith. It is more about describing a viewpoint than a person. One stage isn't necessarily better than another. They are just different. They all have their pros and cons. As a very broad generalization though, people transition their views in sequence from one stage to the next over time.

MormonStories audio interviews (in three parts),
on the topic of James Fowler's Stages of Faith:
http://mormonstories.org/podcast/Mormon ... ithPt1.mp3
http://mormonstories.org/podcast/Mormon ... ithPt2.mp3
http://mormonstories.org/podcast/Mormon ... ithPt3.mp3

Mormon Expression podcasts:
Fowler Stages of Faith – Overview, Part 1
http://mormonexpression.com/?p=315
Fowler Stages of Faith – Fifth stage and what it means to the LDS Church, Part 2
http://mormonexpression.com/?p=440

Book Review on StayLDS:
viewtopic.php?f=10&t=153

A very brief description of the Stages of Faith:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stages_of_ ... evelopment

A couple of longer, more detailed summaries of the Fowler Stages of Faith:
http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/fowler.htm
http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2219.htm

Re: James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 22 Jul 2009, 12:22
by swimordie
Thanks for the sticky. I think it is an important concept not just to stay engaged in the conversations at staylds.com but also for everyone's personal belief system/managing relationships (especially with people at different stages)

Re: James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 22 Jul 2009, 13:36
by Heber13
Well worth reviewing more than once, for those who have been here a while too!

Re: James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 30 Jul 2009, 11:35
by LadyWisdom
I also like this essay as in it pertains to the LDS church, specifically.

http://www.digis.net/~jeffret/stages/sof_inst.html

Re: James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 21 Aug 2009, 00:19
by kedmondson
Thanks for the references. Its pretty fascinating research.

I started as Stage 3 Catholic, had a crisis of faith at age 20, and ended up... a Stage 3 Mormon :lol: . I'm now (at age 30) in transition between 3 and 4. I feel like I am getting closer to Stage 4, as much of my anger is gone and I am starting to view religion less and less about the organization and more and more about my personal relationship with and progress towards Deity.

Re: James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 21 Aug 2009, 05:50
by Bill Atkinson
Thanks Valoel

I think it is important and useful for Fowler's stages to be highlighted and it really helps me to work through conceptual issues.

For lots of people here on the site who are going through their faith crisis, their stage 4 movement (Fowler calls it individuative-reflective faith) there are a few things to keep in mind:
  • 1. This questioning, this placing your own personal, individual understanding of your faith as more important than the institution you belong to IS NOT a "falling into sin" but the essential step in being able to reach a mature faith in stage 5 (Fowler calls that "conjunctive faith").
    2. Managing your marriage relationship needs to recognize that your spouse is likely at Stage 3 (Synthetic -conventional faith) and such people are intensely loyal to their beliefs, these are the emphatic "I knows" of testimony meeting, these are the core of any Mormon ward. You don't have to "convert" them to the same stage 4 you are going through but you do need to communicate that the long term goal of your questioning will hopefully be a more mature, equally as loyal understanding of the gospel
It think this quote from Jeff Thompson needs some thinking:
Our weaknesses are not in our core doctrines, but in our institutionalized and communal fear of Stage 4. Unfortunately, we show little sign of alleviating this and instead seem intent on entrenching ourselves further within Stage 3.
Reading this has helped me enormously with my issues around the "organization" that "manages" the church. As Jeff points our doctrine, including that each person should seek their own personal revelations and progression, actually help to lead a person to the Stage 5, conjunctive phase where their is a greater acceptance of the fairth. However, on an institutional level the Church does seem to want to keep the people at a loyal, predictable stage 3 and you can understand that from their point of view.

I want to bring in Kohlberg's theory of Moral Devleopment but that would hopelessly complicate this post. Maybe it is already here at the site and I need to go do some more looking. :shock:

Re: James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 21 Aug 2009, 13:24
by Tom Haws
I like this link: http://www.mc.maricopa.edu/dept/d46/psy ... owler.html

No, actually, we haven't discussed Kohlberg, who as you are implying is an important predecessor for Fowler. I would love to see you start a thread on Kohlberg's work.

Incidentally, in reading Jeff Thompson's essay/article, his conclusion reminded me of something I think might work in the church:
We will conclude Fowler's comments with part of his solution to the modal developmental level problem, "My vision for such a community as this begins with taking ongoing faith development in adulthood seriously. I believe that when a community expects and provides models for significant continuing faith development in adulthood its patterns of nurturing the faith of children and youth will change and become more open-ended." [pg. 295] I believe that Fowler has the right idea here. We need to begin to take faith development in adulthood seriously. We need to examine what it means and where it leads. We need to stop trying to address it with platitudes and "feel good" statements. We need to stop persecuting those who move on and develop tolerance for other people and for alternate ideas. We need to develop proper understandings of faith and truth.
Faith development in adulthood could be as simple as moves like restricting High Priest ordination to some advanced age (35 or 40 approx. post mid-life crisis), adding a "senior" Relief Society restricted likewise, extending the youth Sunday School groups in two or three year steps to age 30, restricting Gospel Doctrine attendance to the age of 30 or older, or splitting Gospel Doctrine into "adult" and "senior" (35 or 40+) sections. In general, small moves that could provide and tacitly, structurally, and institutionally in some way acknowledge the reality of "advancement" after true adulthood (post-college, post honeymoon, post-mission, age 25 or 30) and mid-life (age 40) would help a lot, I think. Creativity is of course needed, but something in the church is needed to point to the faith difference between a 45-year-old and a 20-year-old that are now in all the same classes. There is a time (sacrament meeting) for mixing, and a time for matching.

Re: James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 25 Aug 2009, 08:09
by Heber13
Tom Haws wrote:Creativity is of course needed, but something in the church is needed to point to the faith difference between a 45-year-old and a 20-year-old that are now in all the same classes. There is a time (sacrament meeting) for mixing, and a time for matching.
Interesting, Tom. I agree that different stages people go through have different needs...I'm not sure it would help meet those needs by prescribing age limits to groupings...as I don't think everyone fits the same mold. I see this problem with the youth age splits, as I think my daughter is not benefitting by rules based on age...yet see there is some wisdom to youth being split up (it is not perfect for eveyone, but better for most).

I like the idea of a "senior" relief society similar to the split of Elders and HP classes, have a different curriculum and focus, however, I wonder if it should be voluntary, allowing anyone of any age to choose where to go to in order to meet their needs. While Fowler suggests the norms are that people go through stages at certain ages in general, certainly those trends are not hard fast rules at ages.

Re: James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 25 Aug 2009, 11:46
by Tom Haws
I like your thoughts. Maybe giving the "senior" sections uninviting names would eliminate the "honors section" ambition and elitism problem that always lurks. Tradition is strong enough; there's no need to have explicit rules. So you have a Gospel Doctrine for seniors (Gospel Doctrine Senior Class) and a relief society for seniors (Relief Society Senior Class). Actually, if you had a Gospel Doctrine Senior Class, you might not need the Relief Society senior class :-). What other ideas are there?

Re: James Fowler's Stages of Faith

Posted: 25 Aug 2009, 17:05
by just me
How 'bout the "milk class" and the "meat class." :D