Stages of Faith – James W.Fowler: Approximate Ages During Stages

Please note the qualifying term “approximate.”  We all enter and emerge each of these stages in our own time.  (Some we later revisit, at a more refined degree of spiritual apprehension.)  Still, there are some general observations which have been made with regard to at what age persons typically encounter the various stages of faith.  I thought this might be useful as a means of orientating oneself to the larger scope of Fowler’s work…

  • Stage 1,  Approx. Ages:  3-7 years(Intuitive-predictive)  Egocentric. Awareness of time. Formative images installed.
  • Stage 2,  Approx. Ages:  6-12 years(Mythical-literal)   Orientating oneself. Relating to local community through stories.
  • Stage 3,  Approx. Ages:  12+ years(Synthetic-conventional)   Expanding faith community; becomes source of identity and values.
  • Stage 4,  Approx. Age:  Early Adult.  (Individuative-reflective)   Self-identity is refined. Meaning becomes categorical, systematic.
  • Stage 5,  Approx. Age:  Adult.  (Conjunctive)   Encounters paradoxes of faith. Universalize ideas. Orientate to others.
  • Stage 6, Approx. Age:  Adult.  (Universalizing)   Extremely rare! Extremely altruistic. Sense of unity with all beings.

There is little self-reflection to be found in stages 1 and 2.

In stage 1 (roughly ages 3 to 7 years) we are primarily orientating ourselves to living in a physical body and learning how we relate to the world surrounding us.  We enter this world completely egocentric, responding to only our own concerns.  We slowly develop a sense of time and a sense of other-ness and separate-ness.  We, for example, begin to understand that others feel pain, as we do, despite our inability to feel their pain.  There is evidence that the neural networks we develop during these early years have a profound effect upon our later development.  We *are* able to overcome early negative experiences and limiting beliefs, but it may be difficult.  Many of these mental images of ourselves, and others, we will carry for many years.  Some carry these their entire lives.

In stage 2 (typically ages 7-12 years) we are forming the psychological structure of whom we are to become.  Much of this internal work is accomplished through the vehicles of myth.  To a large degree, the stories and beliefs to which our local community assigns value, assume a similar value for us.  We use these stories and myths to provide a framework for our own experiences, and to provide our orientation to our larger community.

Stages 3 and beyond are where we build our unique sense of self.  We become increasingly introspective.  In time, some may become willing to seriously confront the paradoxes of their faith.  Some may eventually be able to appreciate a sense of kinship with all beings.

During stage 3 (ages 12+) our sense of community expands.  While our sense of faith is extended, beyond those of our care-givers, it is still typically synthetic.  This means we tend to adopt the faith values of others as opposed to generating our own sense of faith.  For this reason, the faith values we adopt tend to be normative of the larger community of which we are a part.

Stage 4 usually occurs during our early adult years.  This is when we make our own, those systems of faith we have previously adopted more-or-less wholesale (the mythos inside which we developed).  As we encounter new systems of faiths and values, we begin the process of comparing and contrasting these with those we are already familiar.  This may take place within a relatively benign and homogenous faith environment, or it may include the challenge of faith environments very different than our own.  Through this interactive process we create our own sense of identity, and define the boarders of our own sense of faith and values.  We develop a personalized, systematic approach to our understanding of faith which forms the set of faith values with which we begin our journey into adulthood.

Stage 5 begins should we choose to confront the paradoxes of our faith, values, beliefs, and experiences.  (Not all persons so choose.)  This is largely the result of seriously considering the value of faith systems other than our own.  The grace and flexibility with which we encounter new faith systems is largely dependent upon the mental and emotional tools we have already acquired in previous developmental stages.  As a result of our attempts to resolve the paradoxes of our faith, we begin to develop more universal ideas.  The goals of our use of faith includes peacefully orientating ourselves to others.  Rather than being exclusive, our faith becomes increasingly inclusive.

Stage 6 is extremely rare.  Such a person is completely altruistic, feeling a kinship with all other persons. They embody an all-inclusive sense of being.  This is sometimes called unity consciousness.
Each stage offers value and serves the needs of those residing within it.  As our own development carries us through these states, we are to remind ourselves that one is not a better person simply because they are chronologically older than another.


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