Stage 3 - Synthetic-Conventional Stage

Stage three is named “synthetic-conventional faith” and occurs from 11 or 12 years to the age of 17-18. However, this stage could potentially last into middle age and possibly into late adulthood.

In the case of Paulo Coelho’s life, this synthetic-conventional stage stretched over two periods in his life, the teenage years (1962-1966) and the twenties (1967-1976).

The Teenage Years (1962-1966)

During Coelho’s teenage years, his self-awareness increased through interpersonal relationship-building, as described by Hughes (1997, p. 1). Coelho joined a theatre group to increase his knowledge of himself, literature and society, as well as his awareness and consciousness (Morais, 2009). He founded the literary club to connect with others who shared his interests (Morais, 2009). Through his interests in theatre and literature and the school change to Andrew’s College - which offered new possibilities in terms of joining political discussions, film study groups and an amateur drama group (Morais, 2009) - Coelho found himself in new roles and functions, as described by Fowler and Dell (2004). Through these memberships, Coelho experienced an increase in abstract thinking processes, inspiration, reasoning and exchange of ideas with others (Morais, 2009). The new activities opened his world view beyond the family and provided new insights and perspectives on topics that moved him personally.

In 1965 Coelho fell in love for the first time and experienced new aspects of himself in terms of feelings, interest and the other, which brought about new selfknowledge and awareness on a deeper level.

At the age of 17, Coelho met Joel Macedo, who took him to the “Paissandu generation”, the intellectuals’ and left-wing activists’ club in Rio. Coelho enjoyed his participation (Morais, 2009) and the intellectual discussions and the club satisfied his need to “go with the crowd, to confirm” his ideas and insights. According to Hughes (1997, p. 1), this is a strong need during this stage of faith development. Coelho thought independently, increasing self-knowledge, abstract thinking and reasoning, self-confirmation and the feeling of belonging, which is described as a typical characteristic of this stage (Elifson & Stone, 1985, p. 31).

After his first stay in hospital, Coelho managed to reframe his stay as an extraordinary experience and boasted to his friends that he had been through an experience that none of them had been through. The experience brought new impressions of the life of a madman (Morais, 2009) and helped Coelho to integrate his mental hospital stories, his personal values and beliefs into a “supporting and orienting unity” of his different identity parts (Fowler, 1987, p. 60). Furthermore, he integrated his interests in writing, the founding of Rota 15, the theatre and drama clubs, as well as membership of the club of intellectuals to strengthen his self-reflection and self?awareness (Hughes, 1997, p. 1). In the context of these social groups he experienced belonging, responding to his longing for connection and confirmation. The group members accepted his stories as an authentic and outstanding experience and respected him.

Fowler (1981) highlights that many individuals may not move past this third stage in adulthood (Fowler, 1984). Burnell (2013, p. 142), emphasises that this is a “conformist stage that is accurately attuded to the expectations and judgement of significant others.” However, Coelho was never committed deeply to a conformist stage during his teenage years. He tried to establish conformity through his selected group memberships, but at the same time, he deconstructed the conformity that had been established. This is proven by the following: At St Andrews, he enrolled for the science stream to conform with his father’s wish to become an engineer, while spending most of his time with drama and literature, his personal interests. He found a job at a local newspaper, but was dismissed soon after because of the publication of a particular article (Morais, 2009). He actively engaged successfully in interest groups, but convinced his parents that he was a “madman” (Morais, 2009). This shows that Coelho conformed only to a certain extent to specific selected societal groups and values. It is assumed that he rather aimed at disconformity with mainstream society than at conformity. Croucher (2010) defines this stage as the faith community stage, while Fowler (1981) relates to it as “ultimacy”. For Coelho, it was a faith community stage in the way that he established his interests in literature, arts and politics in the context of group memberships, which proved his conformance and belonging. His focus on these memberships and discussion groups might have supported him in overcoming his struggle with his belief in God on a different level, which was expressed in being an “atheist” (Arias, 2001, p. 13), feelings of being left alone and punished by God (Morais, 2009) and feelings that religion was horrific (Arias, 2001). As described by Fowler and Dell (2004), the development of belief during this stage is often characterised by contradictions that are negotiated intrapersonally. Coelho experienced a split with God, as well as a split between his emotions and his cognition, which is viewed as typical during this stage (Fowler & Dell, 2004). This split was evident, for example, during the Jesuit retreat that Coelho attended in 1962. On the one hand, he felt encouraged in his belief owing to his “first encounter with God”. On the other hand, he felt guilty and anxious about his sexual desires and the expected punishment by God (Morais, 2009). Coelho became familiar with mysterious rituals during his time at the Jesuit school, which at times left him encouraged and at other times doubtful (Morais, 2009, p. 59). These experiences show aspects of Stage 2, the mythical-literal development stage (see Sect. 5.7.3), and Stage 3, the synthetic-conventional stage.

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