In my Principles and Methods of Teaching course, I’ve asked our students to read through James Fowler’s classic Stages of Faith and write brief (300 word) critical reviews on each of its five sections. Grades on the first assignment were not received well, and there was some concern from the students that 300 words simply was not enough space for this kind of discussion. I argued for the virtue of being concise, but also made a promise: that I would write my own review for Section II of the book, and have students grade me on my work. I also said I’d post my work on here and allow the world to grade me as well.
So, without further ado, here are my thoughts…grade away!
James Fowler confesses that earlier in life he had been “a citizen reared in the land of theology…try[ing] to earn dual citizenship in the new world of psychology of human development” (38). While we as readers are often strangers to both worlds, if the rest of Stages of Faith is as helpful and insightful as this section has been, we should have no fear in relying on him as our trail guide through unfamiliar terrain. Having spent his first few chapters discussing matters related to faith proper, in Part II Fowler turns his attention to three theories of human psychological development. In so doing, he draws upon the thought of Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erickson. How we think, how we make moral evaluations, and how certain characteristics come to define us as individuals are essential topics here.
Fowler uses a novel approach in this section: an imagined conversation. In chapters 7-11, he posits what a discussion about human life stages from infancy through adulthood might look like from the perspective of his assembled experts. These collected thoughts reframe what could be a dry academic monograph into a much more engaging confab amongst intellectual peers, pointing the way forward for a future discussion of developmental faith. This said, readers dealing with such heady subject matter deserve better illustrations than the confusing models in chapter 10. While Table 2.1 (immediately preceding chapter 7) is essential in comparing each scholar’s perspective to the others, the frequency with which readers must return to it again and again indicates: a) such a resource be featured prominently in each chapter, and b) the material even as mediated through the imagined conversation can at times still be a bit opaque. Yet despite its few shortcomings, Fowler’s unique approach represents a worthwhile time investment and readers will be richer for having engaged the ideas within.