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Critical Responses to Faith Development Theory: A Useful Agenda for Change?

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Summary Since it was first presented, James Fowler’s faith development theory has proven influential in pastoral care and counselling, pastoral and practical theology, spiritual direction, and Christian education. However, it has also been subject to substantial critical evaluation. This article reviews the major themes within psychological critiques and considers the agenda provided by these critiques for the theory’s future development. Critical themes concern Fowler’s understanding of “faith”; the theory’s structural “logic of development”; its overemphasis on cognition and lack of attention to (emotional/psychodynamic dimensions as) processes of transition and transformation; its gender bias and cultural specificity; and its purported difficulty in accommodating postmodern trends in psychology. To address these critiques in a meaningful way, there is a need to embrace alternative existing theories of faith development and spiritual/religious change, to construct a radically revised, process-focused version of faith development theory, and to continue to develop new localized process models of faith development.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Surrey Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH United Kingdom +44 (0)1483 686896, Email:; 2: Department of Psychology, University of Surrey Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH United Kingdom +44 (0)1483 686896


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