The Spiritual Life - Topic Six
Every day words for Fowler’s stages of faith development.
People do not proceed through the stages of faith development in linear step by step fashion. There is some back and forth and oscillation in the pattern of growth and development. However, a person, using this framework, can usually determine the stage that they are in predominantly at any given point in their life.
Fowler uses academic abstract terminology to name his six stages. In this article, names will be given to these stages that are more colloquial and hopefully more understandable and memorable.
Stage one which usually occurs in ages 3-7 Fowler names “intuitive-projective” and which can also be called the “Fairy tale stage.” God is imagined as a fanciful figure like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny who cares about good and bad behavior and rewards or punishes accordingly.
Stage two which usually occurs between 8 and 12 Fowler names “mythic literal” and which can also be called the “heroic stage” wherein the person believes in avatar figures who can be athletes, celebrities of all sorts, or mythic characters like the Power Rangers, the Ninja Turtles, or other heroic figures who are idealized. God is imagined the biggest heroic figure of all with superior powers of all sorts.
Stage three which usually occurs in adolescence Fowler names “synthetic-conventional” and which can also be called the “moral code stage” wherein good guys win and bad guys are caught and punished. God is thought of as the judge, jury, and enforcer of moral and social order.
Stage four which usually occurs from early twenties to late thirties, Fowler names “individuative - reflective” and which can also be called the “questioning stage” in which what the person was taught earlier about God and their religion now doesn’t seem to make total sense and it dawns on the person that there must be a better way to make sense of one’s life and experience. God is no longer thought to be a dependable and/or understandable concept, and people, at this stage, often are seen to be losing or having lost their faith.
Stage five which usually occurs at mid life, Fowler calls “conjunctive” and which can also be called the “searching stage” in which the person is aware of paradox, mystery, and that logic and rational thought does not help them name their deep longing for the comfort of a foundational experience of truth. God becomes a symbolic term for something which is perceived as being transcendent and mysterious.
Stage six which usually occurs later in one’s life, but can occur at any time, Fowler calls “Universalizing” and which can also be called the cosmic consciousness stage which is the non dualistic apprehension of Oneness. The person in this stage puts the rational mind aside and rests in the experience of being one with All. Another word often used for this stage is “enlightenment.”
Most people who read this blog and are following this series of topics on The Spiritual Life would be at stage four and above. It would seem likely that most people would be at stage five.