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STAGES OF FAITH

James W. Fowler
• Fowler’s work is not focused on a
particular religious tradition
• For Fowler, faith is a universal quality of
human life
• “Faith” is a dynamic, changing evolving
process, a way of being
• Fowler’s “stages” are “still shots” in a
complex, dynamic process
• Fowler’s stages are not meant to be an
evaluative scale. There are individuals at
each stage who are persons of serenity,
courage and genuine faith
PRIMAL FAITH
• Infancy: bonding and attachment,
relationship, trust, baby’s memories of
maternal and paternal presence
• These early experiences shape the
images of God that take more or less
conscious form by the fourth or fifth year of
life
STAGE 1: INTUITIVE –
PROJECTIVE FAITH
• Age 2 – 7: language development,
communication, interpretation of the world
• Perception, feelings, and imaginative fantasy
make up the child’s principal ways of knowing
and transforming their experiences
• Stories, symbols and examples help give the
world unity and sense
• The symbols, stories and shared life of a
religious tradition give a child an expanded
horizon of meanings
STAGE 2: MYTHIC – LITERAL
FAITH
• Concrete operational thinking: stable categories
of space, time and causality make the child’s
constructions of experience much less
dependent on feeling and fantasy
• Ability to recognize others’ perspectives:
recognize right, wrong, goodness, evil
• Faith becomes a matter of reliance on the
stories, rules and implicit values of the family’s
community of meanings
• Narrative & story become important
• Faith involves valuing the stories, practices
and beliefs of one’s faith community &
tradition
STAGE 3: SYNTHETIC –
CONVENTIONAL FAITH
• Typically begins to emerge in early adolescence
• Formal operational thinking: ideal possibilities,
hypothetical considerations
• Synthetic: pulling disparate elements of one’s life
into an integrated unity
• Conventional: Values, beliefs derived from a
group of significant others
• Strong, deeply held beliefs, yet largely
unexamined, no critical self-reflection
• Strong sense of identity through face-to-face
membership with those with shared beliefs
STAGE 4: INDIVIDUATIVE –
REFLECTIVE FAITH
• Persons objectify, examine, make critical
choices about the defining elements of their
identity and faith
• More explicit commitment and accountability
• Emergence of “self,” no longer defined by the
composite of one’s roles or meanings to others
• Bringing beliefs and lived experience into unity
• This transition may typically occur in early
adulthood, but for others it comes, if at all, later
STAGE 5: CONJUNCTIVE FAITH
• Midlife or beyond; ‘coincidence of opposites’ –
emergent awareness of the need to face and
hold together polar tensions in one’s life:
life/death, old/young
• Acknowledges paradox of different perspectives
on truth as being intrinsic to that truth
• Genuine openness to the truths of other
traditions and faith communities
• We try to “shape our dance in relation to God’s
movements”
• Realization that God shows forth the divine
purpose for all persons and nations
STAGE 6: UNIVERSALIZING
FAITH
• Few individuals reach this stage
• A sense of being in but not of the world
• A decentration from self: circle of those who
count expands – all of humankind
• Valuing and valuation are centered in the
Creator: the individual participates in the valuing
of the Creator and values other beings, and
being, from the standpoint of the Creator
• Examples: Mother Teresa, Ghandhi, Martin
Luther King, Dietrick Bonhoeffer
STAGES OF FAITH
DEVELOPMENT: John
Westerhoff III
• EXPERIENCED FAITH: (preschool, early
childhood) Interactions with other ‘faithing
selves’; experiencing God’s love through
others
• AFFILIATIVE FAITH: Belonging to a faith
community, identifying with its ‘story’,
participating in its activities
• SEARCHING FAITH (adolescence, early
adulthood): Doubt, critical judgment,
inquiry into meanings of the “story”,
experimentation, testing one’s tradition by
learning about others, a need for
commitment
• OWNED FAITH: “Conversion” – sudden or
gradual, desire to witness to faith in both
word and deed, conscious part of a
person’s identity, desire to reach full
potential as intended by God, sense of
lifelong faith journey