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Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning Paperback – September 15, 1995

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; New edition edition (September 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060628669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060628666
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Groundbreaking study shows how human life is progressively centered around a basic set of meanings and values that shape the faith people live by.

About the Author

James W. Fowler is widely regarded, along with his associate Lawrence Kohlberg and his contemporaries Carol Gilligan and Daniel J. Levinson, as a seminal figure in the field of developmental psychology. He has taught at Harvard University and Boston College and is currently the head of the Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions at Emory University.

Customer Reviews

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I read this book upon the advice of a friend.
Jane Wedemeyer
Some day these works by Fowler will be embraced by more of the church and will aid its effort to help people make progress along their own spiritual journeys.
April B.
I read this book first in 1991, and return to it often.
Richard Green

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Tanja L. Walker on January 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
I have to admit, I found the first part of this book to be rather dull reading, and if I wasn't reading this for research on a book I'm co-writing with a friend, I might have given up! But I stuck it out, and I'm glad I did. Fowler is clever in giving a mock symposium to introduce the development theories of Erickson, Piaget, and Kohlberg. And once he actually gets into his stages of faith development, the book really gets interesting. He provides interesting examples of people at different stages of faith development, and importantly, he does not judge people at the different stages--it would be easy to assume people are "better," or "more faithful" at higher stages. This book helped me understand where I am in my faith development, and helped me see ways I can grow in my own faith. This is not, however, a casual read. It takes quite a bit of concentration, and at times, I found Fowler a little hard to follow, especially at the beginning and the end. Still, I recommend it for anyone who wants to understand their faith journey, whatever faith journey they may be on.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Burns VINE VOICE on April 23, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Shortly after this work was published in 1981 I was engaged in a summer school graduate course on human development at Rollins College. The adjunct professor, an elementary school principal, was highly conversant with the schools and theories discussed by James Fowler in this work at hand. During a break in the ungodly four-hour night class, a student asked the professor if, given the chance to do it over, she would have focused her doctoral efforts in another direction. Without batting an eye, the professor shot back: "Oh yes. Pharmacology." To say that a few somnolent students snapped to attention would be a profound understatement. Her message was clear enough: when studying human development, psychological theory is only one leg of the stool.
"Stages of Faith" is the first and perhaps best known work of James Fowler, who is particularly remembered in Roman Catholic circles for his influence upon the structure and content of religious education programs and study books for the young. Fowler himself appears to have been profoundly influenced by the study of Paul Tillich and particularly Richard Niebuhr, about whom the author would produce another book years later. Fowler credits both theologians for their seminal systematic work on the distinction between personal spiritual experience and cultic religious belief. [I did find Fowler's omission of Rudolf Otto's groundbreaking work on religious experience from his primary sources as curious.]
The scholarly quest for systematic recognition of personal religious experience was a new venture for mainstream Protestant and Roman Catholic academics. The established theories of human development-notably Piaget and Erikson-provided theologians with something of a language for further theorizing.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jayelithe on December 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
Have you ever wondered why some people take religious texts literally and others understand them as metaphoric? Ever wondered why some believe that their religion is "the only one" while others view all religions as streams leading to the same ocean?

Ever wondered why everyone seems to start life seeing things in black and white, and while most continue to do so, some people begin seeing in gray or even colors? Why every tradition starts with a list of concrete laws, and then eventually someone comes along and sums them up with one or two -- if his or her listeners will only pay attention? And why some members of the tradition feel more comfortable with the dozens or hundreds while others let them go and embrace the one or two?

Fowler deals in depth with the six stages of faith, moving from the "Mythic-Literal" that we all begin with, explaining why some of us never outgrow it and each successive stage. He then discusses the processes one must move through, which he calls "crises of faith," in order to move from one stage to the next.

He also explains why those in a low level of faith not only cannot understand those at a higher level, but are usually either distrustful, afraid or worshipful (or possibly all three at once) of them, and often pressure them to move back to the lower stage so they will feel more comfortable around them.

This book is helpful to anyone undergoing a crisis of faith or to anyone who is confident in her own faith but is being pressured by old friends or family members to return to a previous religious background.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Brad Shorr on October 17, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A daunting book--at times ponderous, at times fascinating. Fowler sets out to define a model of faith stages that applies universally--regardless of religion (or lack thereof), culture, nature, or nurture. In this effort he draws heavily on the work of Lawrence Kohlberg, Erik Erikson, and Jean Piaget. Giving credit where credit is due, he devotes about 40 pages to a fictional conversation among these eminent psychologists, a conversation which is highly technical but richly textured with subtle but crucial points about thought development that Fowler will use to build his own model of faith stages. Fowler proceeds with a description of these stages of faith, then uses some (much more readable) interviews to illustrate and flesh out his theory. Personally, I found Fowler's introduction the most fascinating part of the book. In it, he explains the distinction among religion, faith and belief in a way that seems obvious yet had never dawned on me.

As for his system of stages, it makes perfect sense, but I don't know how you could prove that it applies to all people in all cases. But even if it doesn't, it provides an extremely useful guide to understanding where you are in your own faith, and where others are and may be heading. For people who are ministering in any type of faith community, or for people who want a deeper understanding of their own faith journey, this book will broaden and sharpen your perspective, provided you have the patience to plow through Fowler's technical and complex prose.
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