James William Fowler III (1940–2015) was an American theologian who was Professor of Theology and Human Development at
Emory University Emory University is a private research university in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1836 as "Emory College" by the Methodist Episcopal Church and named in honor of Methodist bishop John Emory, Emory is the second-oldest private institution of highe ...
. He was director of both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development, and the Center for Ethics until he retired in 2005. He was a minister in the
United Methodist Church The United Methodist Church (UMC) is a worldwide mainline Protestant denomination based in the United States, and a major part of Methodism. In the 19th century, its main predecessor, the Methodist Episcopal Church, was a leader in evangelicalism. ...

Life and career

Fowler was born in Reidsville, North Carolina, on October 12, 1940, the son of a Methodist minister. In 1977, Fowler was appointed Associate Professor of Theology and Human Development at the Candler School of Theology at
Emory University Emory University is a private research university in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1836 as "Emory College" by the Methodist Episcopal Church and named in honor of Methodist bishop John Emory, Emory is the second-oldest private institution of highe ...
. He was later named Charles Howard Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development. He died on October 16, 2015.

Stages of faith

He is best known for his book ''Stages of Faith'', published in 1981, in which he sought to develop the idea of a Developmental psychology, developmental process in "human faith". These stages of faith development were along the lines of Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development and Lawrence Kohlberg's Kohlberg's stages of moral development, stages of moral development.

Description of the stages

* 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 about the universe and the divine. Transition to the next stage begins with integration of thought and language 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 mind, Unconscious, and marked by a relative fluidity of thought patterns. Religion is learned mainly through experiences, stories, images, and the people that one comes in contact with. * Stage 2 – "Mythic-Literal" faith (mostly in school children), is characterized by persons have a strong belief in the justice and reciprocity of the universe, and their deity, deities are almost always anthropomorphic. During this time metaphors and Symbolic language (literature), symbolic language are often misunderstood and are taken literally. * Stage 3 – "Synthetic-Conventional" faith (arising in adolescence; aged 12 to adulthood), is characterized by conformity to authority and the religious development of a personal identity. Any conflicts with one's beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies. * Stage 4 – "Individuative-Reflective" faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties), is a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one is able to reflect on one's own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one's belief. * Stage 5 – "Conjunctive" faith (mid-life crisis), acknowledges paradox and transcendence (philosophy), transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems. The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent "truth" that cannot be explained by any particular statement. * Stage 6 – "Universalizing" faith, or what some might call "Enlightenment (spiritual), enlightenment". The individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice.

Empirical research

Fowler's model has inspired a considerable body of empirical research into faith development, although little of such research was ever 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. For criticism see Psychology of religion#Developmental approaches to religion, Developmental approaches to religion.


*''Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning'' (1981) *''Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian: Adult Development and Christian Faith'' (1984) (revised 1999 ) *''To See the Kingdom: The Theological Vision of H. Richard Niebuhr'' (1974), *''Faith Development and Pastoral Care'' (1987) *''Weaving the New Creation: Stages of Faith and the Public Church'' (1991) *''Faithful Change: The Personal and Public Challenges of Postmodern Life'' (1996)

See also

*Jean Piaget, Theory of cognitive development *Erik Erikson, Erikson's stages of psychosocial development *Lawrence Kohlberg, Kohlberg's stages of moral development *Developmental psychology **Developmental stage theories *Psychology of religion *Integral theory (Ken Wilber)




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Further reading

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External links

James W.Fowler page at Emory Center for Ethics
''Theology Today'' 39(1)

{{DEFAULTSORT:Fowler, James W. 2015 deaths American psychologists Emory University faculty Writers from Georgia (U.S. state) 1940 births Psychologists of religion Stage theories American United Methodist clergy