Fowler's stages of faith development
A series of stages of faith development was proposed by Professor James W. Fowler, a developmental psychologist at Candler School of Theology, in the book Stages of Faith. This book-length study contains a framework and ideas, which have generated a good deal of response from the academic community focusing on religious studies.
It proposes a staged development of faith (or spiritual development) across the life span. It is closely related to the work of Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, and Lawrence Kohlberg regarding aspects of psychological development in children and adults.
Fowler defines faith as an activity of trusting, committing, and relating to the world based on a set of assumptions of how one is related to others and the world.
- Stage 0 – "Primal or Undifferentiated" faith (birth to 2 years), is characterized by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect and abuse). If consistent nurture is experienced, one will develop a sense of trust and safety about the universe and the divine. Conversely, negative experiences will cause one to develop distrust with the universe and the divine. Transition to the next stage begins with integration of thought and languages which facilitates the use of symbols in speech and play.
- Stage 1 – "Intuitive-Projective" faith (ages of three to seven), is characterized by the psyche's unprotected exposure to the Unconscious, and marked by a relative fluidity of thought patterns.  Religion is learned mainly through experiences, stories, images, and the people that one comes in contact with.
- Stage 2 – "Mythic-Literal" faith (mostly in school children), stage two persons have a strong belief in the justice and reciprocity of the universe, and their deities are almost always anthropomorphic. During this time metaphors and symbolic language are often misunderstood and are taken literally.
- Stage 3 – "Synthetic-Conventional" faith (arising in adolescence; aged 12 to adulthood) characterized by conformity to religious authority and the development of a personal identity. Any conflicts with one's beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies.
- Stage 4 – "Individuative-Reflective" faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one is able to reflect on one's own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one's belief.
- Stage 5 – "Conjunctive" faith (mid-life crisis) acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems. The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent "truth" that cannot be explained by any particular statement.
- Stage 6 – "Universalizing" faith, or what some might call "enlightenment." The individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice. This is an important stage, as it begins the forming of the young adults future.
Fowler's model has inspired a considerable body of empirical research into faith development, although little of such research has been conducted by Fowler himself. A useful tool here has been Gary Leak's Faith Development Scale, or FDS, which has been subject to factor analysis by Leak (Leak, 2008). For criticism see Developmental approaches to religion.
- Jean Piaget, Theory of cognitive development
- Erik Erikson, Erikson's stages of psychosocial development
- Lawrence Kohlberg, Kohlberg's stages of moral development
- Developmental psychology
- Psychology of religion
- Spiral Dynamics
- Joann Wolski Conn (ed.), Women’s Spirituality: Resources for Christian Development. (Paulist, 1986), pp. 226-232
- Fowler, James W. (1981). Stages of Faith, Harper & Row ISBN 0-06-062866-9.
- Leak, G. (2008). Factorial validity of the Faith Development Scale. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 18 (2) pp123ff.
- Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte (2005) "Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty," The Forum: Vol. 3 : Iss. 1, Article 2. Available at: http://www.bepress.com/forum/vol3/iss1/art2
- Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte, Fundamentals and Fundamentalists: A Reply to Ames et al.2 (July 2005)
- Wulff, D. M., Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary (2nd ed), New York, Wiley, 1997.
- Zastrow, C., Kirst-Ashman, K. (2007). Understanding human behavior and the social environment (7th ed.) Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
- Volume dedicated to the Faith Development Theory of James Fowler in The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. 11(3). 2001. For example:
- Heinz Streib, "The Symposium on Faith Development Theory and the Modern Paradigm", pp. 141–142.
- John McDargh "Faith Development Theory and the Postmodern Problem of Foundations", pp. 185–199
- Howard Kurtz, "College Faculties a Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds", WP, Tuesday 29 Mar 2005, p. C1.