Development of faith and spirituality over time

The theories of Fowler and Oser/Gmünder provide a framework for understanding the way in which individuals develop their faith and spirituality over time. In combination with Kieboom’s Character Panel, this gives a reference frame which I hope will give you increased understanding of how some people – especially gifted individuals – are put together.

TLDR: Not all “character flaws” are actual character flaws.

Disclaimer: Piaget’s theory of cognitive development presupposes a necessary sequence of stages. Normally these stages are related to age. Sequences or levels seem to be foundational to the thinking of many, and it’s so often easy to recognize such structuring in theories that are proposed. Often that aspect isn’t specifically tested. When it comes to spirituality, a sequential structure may help understanding one’s religious orientation, but it should not be used to dictate or predict a next step or level.

Fowler’s stages of faith

In 1981, James Fowler proposed a theory of faith development that described series of stages that individuals go through as they develop their faith and spirituality.

Pre-faith This is the stage where individuals are not yet aware of the existence of a higher power or spirituality.
Mythic-literal The stage where individuals first become aware of spirituality and a higher power, and they tend to view this power in literal and concrete terms. They may have a childlike understanding of spirituality and may see it as something that is connected to magic and superstition.
Synthetic-conventional In this stage, individuals begin to integrate their faith with their own experiences and their culture. They may adopt the beliefs and practices of their family or community and may view their faith in more conventional and institutionalized terms.
Individuative-reflective In this stage, individuals begin to question and reflect on their faith and may begin to form their own personal beliefs and practices. They may move away from the conventional beliefs and practices of their community and may experience some dissonance or conflict as they try to integrate their faith with their own experiences.
Conjunctive In this final stage, individuals are able to integrate their faith with their own experiences and with the broader world around them. They may view spirituality in more holistic and multifaceted terms and may be more open to new experiences and perspectives.

More reading:

Oser & Gmünder’s Opinions and their religious roots

According to Fritz Oser and Paul Gmünder (1991), every human has cognitive-religious structures, just like they have mathematical, logical, moral and other structures. They describe the following six stages of religious thinking, and propose that these form a continuum, from simple thinking patterns to complex.
They focused on how individuals include their religious understanding in how they arrive at their opinions, and concluded that one needs to have a balance in a number of dimensions, among others: freedom – dependence, trance – immanence, trust – mistrust, eternal – temporal.

Stage 1 Orientation towards the complete determination (deus ex machina).
God’s intervention in the world is seen as a reward or a punishment.
God cannot be everywhere at the same time.
Stage 2 Orientation towards reciprocity (do ut des).
Something is given so something may be received.
There exists an exchange between God and man. God wants the best for man and so man tries to win God’s favor.
Stage 3 Orientation towards autonomy (deism).
God works in those places where man fulfills His will.
The transcendent and the immanent, that what is beyond and that what is within our reality, are strictly separated.
Stage 4 Orientation towards autonomy and “the divine plan”.
Life is based on your own ability to make decisions.
God is seen as loving and good. He wants the best, but He only creates the conditions for it.
Stage 5 Orientation towards self-fulfillment in intersubjectivity, finding one’s purpose in coexistence.
God is liberalization towards freedom.
The God-man relationship is the reason and purpose of my own existence, and the existence of others.
Stage 6 Orientation towards universal communication and solidarity.
The God-man relationship is above all the reason and purpose of all history and reality.

More reading:

Recognizing this…

Being able to recognize this gives you as a parent, supervisor, teacher or lecturer more insight into how gifted people think and act. Recognizing this in yourself gives you more insight, with the understanding that people are, actually, different.
Check out this article about different ways of thinking.

Tip: Do read Kieboom’s Character traits of gifted children