James W. Fowler is a graduate of Duke University and Drew Theological Seminary and earned his Ph.D. at Harvard University in Religion and Society in 1971, with a focus in ethics and sociology of religion. He pursued post-doctoral studies at the Center for Moral Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (1971-72). He taught at Harvard Divinity School (1969-75) and at Boston College (1975-76). In 1977 he joined the faculty of Emory's Candler School of Theology. Emory named him the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development in 1987. His pioneering research and the resulting theory of faith development have earned him international recognition. His best-known book, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Development and the Quest for Meaning, is in its 38th printing, and has been translated into German, Korean, and Portuguese editions.
He and his wife have two married
daughters and four grandchildren.
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 those interested in religion.
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.
Faith is seen as a holistic orientation, and is concerned with the individual's relatedness to the universal:
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.
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.
Stage 3 "Synthetic-Conventional" faith (arising in adolescence) characterized by conformity
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.
Stage 5 "Conjunctive" faith (mid-life crisis) acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems
Stage 6 "Universalizing" faith, or what some might call "enlightenment".
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).
Fowler, James W. (1981). Stages of Faith, Harper &
Row ISBN 0-06-062866-9.