Psychology of Religion - Developmental Approaches To Religion

Developmental Approaches To Religion

Attempts have been made to apply stage models, such as that of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg, to how children develop ideas about God and about religion in general.

By far the most well-known stage model of spiritual or religious development is that of James W. Fowler, a developmental psychologist at the Candler School of Theology, in his Stages of Faith. He follows Piaget and Kohlberg and has proposed a staged development of faith (or spiritual development) across the lifespan in terms of a holistic orientation, and is concerned with the individual's relatedness to the universal.

The book-length study contains a framework and ideas considered by many to be insightful and which have generated a good deal of response from those interested in religion, so it appears to have at least a reasonable degree of face validity. James Fowler proposes six stages of faith development as follows: 1. Intuitive-projective 2. Symbolic Literal 3. Synthetic Conventional 4. Individuating 5. Paradoxical (conjunctive) 6. Universalising. Although there is evidence that children up to the age of twelve years do tend to be in the first two of these stages, there is evidence that adults over the age of sixty-one do show considerable variation in displays of qualities of Stages 3 and beyond. Fowler's model has generated some empirical studies, and fuller descriptions of this research (and of these six stages) can be found in Wulff (1991). However, this model has been attacked from a standpoint of scientific research due to methodological weaknesses. Of Fowler's six stages, only the first two found empirical support, and these were heavily based upon Piaget's stages of cognitive development. The tables and graphs in the book were presented in such a way that the last four stages appeared to be validated, but the requirements of statistical verification of the stages did not come close to having been met. The study was not published in a journal, so was not peer-reviewed, and never drew much attention from psychologists. Other critics of Fowler have questioned whether his ordering of the stages really reflects his own commitment to a rather liberal Christian Protestant outlook, as if to say that people who adopt a similar viewpoint to Fowler are at higher stages of faith development. Nevertheless, the concepts Fowler introduced seemed to hit home with those in the circles of academic religion, and have been an important starting point for various theories and subsequent studies.

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