Stages of Faith Development

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Paulo Coelho, 2002b, 22


The chapter focuses on FDT and James Fowler’s theoretical perspective on the stages of faith development across the life span. This theory is examined as one of the psychological theories applied in the psychobiography on Paulo Coelho. Fowler’s theory on “stages of faith development” is firstly introduced and the term/ concept of faith is defined. The FDT is explored in more depth and Fowler’s seven aspects of influencing the stages of human faith development are presented. The theory is discussed in general, with regard to its current state and with regard to writing and psychobiographical research. Critical responses to FDT are outlined and a chapter summary is given.


The development of religious and spiritual faith has been of interest in theology, as well as in the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, history and anthropology. Across disciplines, James Fowler’s FDT has been the most influential framework relevant to religious and spiritual development during the past decades (Coyle, 2011).

Fowler’s work originated in 1968 and was first published in an elaborated form in 1981 in “Stages of faith” (Fowler, 1981). The theory has since attracted attention across disciplines. It inspired empirical research in the US and beyond (Streib, 2005) and stimulated critical responses, which led to an interdisciplinary scientific discourse on faith and its development in human beings. Heywood (2008, p. 263) emphasises that FDT has been cited as “a psychologically based theory of human religious development within the broader framework of a theological anthropol- © Springer International Publishing AG 2017

C.-H. Mayer, The Life and Creative Works of Paulo Coelho,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-59638-9_5

ogy”. Originally, it was developed to “map” faith development to provide new ideas to pastoral and educational practices (Coyle, 2011) and was primarily developed in the context of practice, aiming at identifying psychological structures of the human being and knowing (Fowler, 2001, p. 159). FDT was viewed as a “framework for understanding the evolution of how human beings conceptualize God, or a Higher Being, and on how the Higher Being impacts on core values, beliefs and meanings in the life of individuals and in their relationships with others” (Fowler & Dell, 2004, p. 17).

Fowler’s theory is based in the scientific tradition of structural stage theories of development. According to Fowler (1986), the stage theory claims to identify and to explicate fundamental underlying structures that shape the development of an individual throughout his/her lifetime. These underlying structures are assumed to be universal and independent of culture. Fowler (1986, p. 27) highlights that development is based on sequential and invariant stages, which are viewed as “deep structural operations of knowing and valuing which underlie, ground, and organize the thematic content” of an individuals faith.

Fowler’s FDT has inspired a huge number of theoretical and empirical research studies that focus either on the theory as such or its application in religious education, pastoral care and church work (Streib, 2003). The empirical studies on FDT use mainly the faith development instrument as described in the manual (Moseley, Jarvis, & Fowler, 1986, 1993) in its classical form, in a variation of the instrument or in a scale-type form (Streib, 2005).[1]

The FDT has been used in life history research, claiming to focus on the narrative structure of the life history, including the “socio-historical conditions and their impact on the narrative structure of self-understanding” and appreciating life- historical aspects of the individual being researched (Streib, 2005, p. 111).

  • [1] The manual (Moseley et al., 1986, 1993) will be explained in Sect. 5.8.1.
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