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Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,234 ratings  ·  96 reviews
Dr. James Fowler has asked these questions, and others like them, of nearly six hundred people. He has talked with men, women, and children of all ages, from four to eighty-eight, including Jews, Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, and atheists. In many cases, the interviews became in-depth conversations that provided rare, intimate glimpses into the various ways our lives ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 15th 1995 by HarperOne (first published May 1981)
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Elizabeth Andrew
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
I first read Fowler's STAGES OF FAITH early in my formation as a spiritual director; the idea that faith (like identity, morality, and thought) develops in discernible stages was revolutionary to me and very helpful in understanding the spiritual lives of my clients. I picked the book up again recently because I'm finding myself in the midst of tumultuous internal changes as I move into serious contemplative practice and I wanted to do another life-review.

Goodness. Fowler's work still feels vita
Karen Hanson
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
This wasn't the most exciting or engaging book I've ever read, but it did have a huge impact on my life's direction. I went into it thinking I would be in the spiritually advanced stage, only to find out I was really just stuck in the middle one... the one that most people don't make it past. This prompted me to really figure out what I believed and to get some backing for what I "knew" to be true. I have this book to thank for actually making me think about my beliefs. I feel like I can actuall ...more
Alexandra Chauran
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended by a fellow student in my doctoral degree program. It was a pretty mind-blowing read, and one that I will recommend. It presents preliminary research on faith as a part of the human condition. Fowler explains that faith can be divorced from religion, although the work presented here is in a Christian religious context. This book helped me understand the nature of belief as an attitude and faith as a sort of trust and how that affects social relationships. Parts I and V ...more
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Lately I’ve been interested in reading up on human development and growth through different stages of life (Piaget, Erickson, etc.). Primarily, Fowler’s book seemed to be one that had been around a while and proven helpful. Overall, the chapters on the different stages of faith are fantastic. Other parts of the book are pretty good, such as his discussion of the difference between “belief” and “faith”. In the ancient world, belief was not just the things in your head you thought were true, it wa ...more
Crimson Sparrow
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A surprisingly interesting read - at least to a psych and theology nerd like me. I was ready to skim the book, having been exposed to the stages in other venues. But the author's exploration of content, process, and case study exposed a rich framework that is lost in charts or lists. I will be reflecting on and using these concepts for the rest of my life. ...more
Corey Astill
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I found Fowler's ideas about the human stages of faith insightful and brilliant. Very descriptive of real-world journeys of faith. These ideas provide endless insights into human faith, one's own faith journey, and how to understand the (often predictable) behavior of others who occupy different stages in their own journeys. Excellent resource.

My criticism of the book centers on the fact that maybe only 1/3 of it dives deep into the Stages of Faith. The first half of the book is dedicated to a
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Please everyone, add developmental knowledge to your worldview... human beings develop through identifiable stages of perspective and inclusiveness. It's really rather simple: later stages are more inclusive, earlier stages include fewer perspectives; whether you're talking about race, gender, values, religious views, moral decision-making, ethnics, law and order, punishment, and so on... Fowler focuses on how human beings develop through stages of religious faith in particular but others have f ...more
Elizabeth Kennedy
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
The most useful and enjoyable sections of the book are the actual descriptions of the stages of faith (the middle section of the book). The first sections of the book that review various theories of human development are more dry and academic. The last section, a sort of case study, went on too long for my taste and needs.
Overall, this book has helped me understand myself and others better. I will likely refer to the descriptions of the faith stages regularly.
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, favorites
I originally found Stages of Faith on a Tumblr post a few months ago, and the systematic approach to faith development immediately sparked my interest. When I additionally found that a speaker at the annual Northstar conference (a venue for Latter-Day Saint LGBT individuals to interact and reflect on the intersection of their faith and sexuality) would be presenting on Fowler's faith stages, I knew that I wanted to look deeper into the topic.How does one construct a model of faith development th ...more
Keith Wilson
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Whenever I meet a new client, after they’ve told me about the problem that brings them to see me, I’ll ask if the problem has a spiritual dimension. Often, this gets us to the heart of the matter.

Most people answer by telling me the name of their religion, or lack thereof. I’m more interested in how they talk about it than what they say. How they talk about spiritual matters reveals the stage of development of their faith; and faith, broadly speaking, affects everything.

Faith changes and mature
Kathryn Johnston
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Program Staff at church read this together, and although it has its tedious moments (especially in the beginning), we found it helpful and informative. It led to great conversation in our meetings. Our hope is that it will continue to inform us as we work to put programs, activities, and even worship components together for our community of faith.
Aaron (Okuyo) Toponce
Jul 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: religious
This is something I've wanted to read for a while after having my faith crisis. In exmormon circles, the 6 Stages of Faith by Dr. James Fowler are well circulated, but I always felt that there were over simplified when explained, especially by Bill Reel. So when I saw that this book was available in my library, I needed to check it out, and I'm glad that I did.

First, the book is exceptionally scholarly and academic. The writing is very high level, which will cause you to read the book at a much
Tom the Mesa Engineer Haws
Apr 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a very technical book about personal developmental stages, and I love it. I read 1/3 of it yesterday. It culminates in a theory of faith development, but on the way it surveys the preparatory or related theories of cognitive, social, and psychological development as propounded by Piaget, Erickson, and Kolberg.

Fowler helps us immensely by giving us a demonstrably universal (at least in the Western world) backdrop for framing our faith growth struggles. According to Fowler, there are 6 fa
Nov 08, 2017 rated it liked it
I had heard quite a lot about Fowler's stages of faith for years, but to really get what it's about I think you have to read the book, rather than listen to people talk about it.

Skip the first half of the book. It is an academic book. If you are an academic it never entered your mind to read the first half, and you would have skipped to where he lays out his theory of the stages. The second half is worth reading. And no, the book isn't actually divided into half 1 and half 2. Just open up half w
Jan 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: psychology
Fowler uses stage theory (e.g. Piaget) and applies this to the faith journey. His definition of faith is sufficiently broad as to divorce it from religious language but states it can also include religious ideas. He then walks the reader, through six stages. The first three-four make a lot of sense, however with his last two stages I struggled to discern the real thread of what he was trying to say amidst his pychobabel. He even admits this in stage 5 stating he struggled to define what he was t ...more
Ben Fredrick
Nov 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was introduced to this book by my good friend Dr. George Simms and I am SO thankful! I'm betting that this is worth re-reading every decade or so of life because in some ways it's value is understood through our own experiences in life.

It's not the simplest read, though. It's very theoretical at times and would benefit from a lot more real-world examples. Overall, the book has really gotten me interested in considering theories of human development and how faith development is connected with
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Read, didn't finish.

Months ago I read a 20 page document that was written using this book and a couple other books that talk about stages of faith. That document had an incredibly profound effect on me so I was eager to read this book on the same topic. I was very disappointed. I'm not one to shy away from academic books, but this one was dry, wordy, and so unenjoyable I couldn't finish it. I skimmed and decided I'll stay with the 20 page document I love and leave this book alone.
Mar 29, 2020 rated it liked it
This one took almost a year to read. I guess I just dont trust him? Who is the person that can speak with any kind of authority regarding the road to enlightenment and how would I know them when I see them?

To sum up:

Pre stage (0-2ish)
Developing trust in the relational experience and predictability of existence. Thought and language begin to converge

Stage1 (2-7ish)
Unable to conceive of a perspective that isnt their own. Becomes aware of taboos. Understands the world through imagination, fairy ta
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: spirituality
Not what I was expecting. I have read other articles referencing this book that explains in my clearer language what the stages are and how to use them to help you in your life. I thought that reading the actual book would help me even more. It didn't. As a psychology grad, I know about human development and could read through the insane psychobabble and overly flowery language. But it doesn't mean I enjoyed it. It was like reading a textbook, but a poorly written one. It was also hard to take s ...more
Charlie Creech
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those seeking a mature faith
This is a must read for those wishing to become mature in any faith, religious or otherwise. This is not meant to be a quick read. This is not a bunch of ambiguous feel good teaching with flowery imagery. It is to be savored like a good meaningful conversations that penetrates to places that have not been given words to as of yet. Going past the symbols and words we use to express those places, we journey to a more precise understanding of the places and therefore of the symbols. If nothing else ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was really helpful to me during this kind of spiritual-intellectual crossroads I'm experiencing! It helps if you have some background in developmental psychology prior to reading- as I was able to jump around and read sections as they stood out to me without comprehension difficulty- while a friend of mine said that the theoretical text took her months to work through before she got to the stages themselves. This work really integrates the concept of Faith for spiritual, religious, and psyc ...more
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I had to stop constantly to think about what was being said in the book. Though it is thought provoking and interesting I don't believe it's complete. However I like the quote on the cover that this is an important work. I'm excited to dive deeper into where his theories are today.

I believe it does have alot of truth to it and I'd recommend this to anyone trying to understand why people believe in religion and what it's use is.

The part I didn't like is the Christian imperialism that pervades the
Jan 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Does anyone reading this know how Fowler's developmental model has fared in the 30+ years since the book was published? There is a lot in Stages of Faith that is interesting to me, about the "stages of faith," that is, the how people have faith in contrast to the (explicit or inexplicit) content of their faith that they trust and/or distrust. But I can't help wondering, is the model itself a castle in the sky, building a great edifice that ties elements together where there are few real connecti ...more
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it
It has some well-developed insights and helpful tools for anyone studying the psychology of the human development of faith, but I would only recommend this for someone with a serious interest in psychology. This is like reading a textbook. Not fun or entertaining. But useful information and theories.
Circle of Hope Pastors
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: doing-theology, fire
James Fowler wrote the book from which all the other "stages of faith' books derive. He has a deep and informed dialogue with the stages of human development people who have shaped so much of how we view ourselves and our children. If you have the stamina, you will be much better educated by the time you finish this book, and you might feel more sympathetic about the stage you are in. -- Rod ...more
Jon Terry
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion, psychology
Loved the ideas in this book - completely changed the way I understand faith in God specifically and finding meaning in life more broadly. As far as the writing goes, sometimes it feels like he's writing to an audience of fellow psychologists, and sometimes it feels like he's writing to lay people, so I was often lost in the more dense portions. ...more
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I learned so much from this book. Life and faith are even more meaningful, beautiful, mysterious and fascinating to me after reading this book. It helped me to put words and meanings to things I have only felt. It helped me realize so much about my journey with faith and those around me! I loved this book.
Adam Brandt
Apr 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Giving this 3 stars because I loved the theory but found the other parts uninteresting. Fowler's seminal work on faith stages is one of a kind and he pioneered a whole new development theory on faith and for that reason, this is worth the read. But aside from the parts that highlight the theory, it feels dry. ...more
Apr 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
I'm way beyond my depth in this promotion and analysis of stages of faith. Specifically drawing on Piaget, Kohlberg and Erikson, Fowler describes in scholarly detail how human development and faith development pair and divide. I would have to be a theology student or a minister to get more out of it; or reread the book. (that's not happening). ...more
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a classic book the lays out faith stages in a broader way than only a religious perspective. It can be a little dry in spots, but really mind-broadening in others.
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“In addition to the kind of critical reflection on one's previous assumptive or tacit system of values we saw Jack undertake, there must be, for Stage 4, a relocation of authority within the self. While others and their judgments will remain important to the Individuative-Reflective person, their expectations, advice and counsel will be submitted to an internal panel of experts who reserve the right to choose and who are prepared to take responsibility for their choices. I sometimes call this the emergence of the executive ego.

The two essential features of the emergence of Stage 4, then, are the critical distancing from one's previous assumptive value system and the emergence of the executive ego. . . .

We find that sometimes many persons complete half of this double movement, but do not complete the other.”
“When we are grasped by the vision of a center of value and power more luminous, more inclusive and more true than that to which we are devoted, we initially experience the new as the enemy or the slayer - that which destroys our "god." Alfred North Whitehead wrote, "Religion is the transition from God the Void to God the Enemy, and from God the Enemy to God the Companion." Only with death of our previous image can a new and more adequate one arise.” 1 likes
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