Stage 6 - Universalising Faith

Finally, Stage 6 is defined as “universalising faith”, which usually only occurs in later life, if at all. It is a very mature stage, hardly reached (Croucher, 2010) and is rather a teleological extension of the theory than an empirically grounded phenomenon (Elifson & Stone, 1985, p. 31).

During this stage, the self is relinquished and abandoned, and a person is seen as a whole, regardless of social class, nationality, gender, age, political ideology, race and religion (Fowler & Dell, 2004). Fowler (1984) highlights that this stage occurs across cultures, but is expressed in various ways. Polar tensions are embraced and transformed (Fowler, 1984).

A person turns to love for each and every person, altruistic values, such as helping others and “giving one’s self even through self-sacrifice” (Hughes, 1997, p. 2). The individual identifies with the “whole of others” and loyalty becomes a “principle of being”. Relatively few individuals claim this stage of vision and faith-related action, as seen in Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa of Calcutta (Elifson & Stone, 1985, p. 31). Fowler (1987) also names former US president Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sister Helen Prejean as individuals who are examples of having reached this stage of faith development. Croucher (2010) refers to this stage as the stage of selfless service.

At this stage, evil is opposed non-violently and with unconditional love. This is shown in actions that emanate from God’s love and justice (Fowler & Dell, 2004, p. 32), for example in the life of the antiapartheid theologian Beyers Naude (Fouche, Burnell, Van Niekerk, & Nortje 2016). God becomes a new quality for individuals who reach this stage. Faith and belief in God become grounded principles of being and individuals identify with these principles while developing deep feelings of knowledge, respect and value towards others (Fowler, 1987). At the same time, God’s goodness and humanity are seen as one in peace. Burnell (2013, p. 149) emphasises that this stage is marked by the “decentration of the self’ and the ability to see the world from various perspectives.

Furthermore, the individual refers to “decentration of values and valuation” at this stage (Burnell, 2013, p. 149), which in the end emphasises the worth of God, the creator. These individuals can connect to others across faith developmental stages and various religions and faith traditions (Fowler, 1987). Both Dykstra (1986) and Croucher (2010) highlight that individuals who reach this stage of faith development may be seen as charismatic leaders, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Heshel (Burnell, 2013) or Beyers Naude (Fouche et al. 2016).

In this section, the stages of faith development were discussed.

Summarising Remarks on the Stages of Faith Development

Fowler (1981, 1987) considered that in FDT, stages needed to be seen as invariant, sequential, discreet and hierarchical. Usually, an individual moves through the stages without skipping any and a transition towards the next stage is described as a transition into a higher sphere of development. The movement from one stage to the other is connected to specific cognitive development, particularly during childhood and the teenage years (Fowler, 1984). Cognitive development is needed to move through the stages, particularly with regard to the growing complexity and the increasing tensions that might occur during certain stages, as described earlier.

The following section refers to faith development in the context of the vocation of an individual.

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