The appeal of faith development theory : a sociological perspective
This thesis seeks to examine James Fowler's faith development theory from a sociological perspective in order to understand the theory's appeal and function within mainstream British churches. Assuming that all claims to knowledge articulate the interest of a particular social group, the thesis begins by outlining the intellectual tradition in which faith development theory stands and then examines its social base within Britain. Insights from the sociology of knowledge and the social psychology of religion are used to suggest that faith development theory operates as a theory of identity amongst those to whom it appeals, acting as a legitimising framework for those of a post-liberal theological outlook who work within the context of religious diversity. Looking at these dynamics in operation through the results of a questionnaire and an examination of relevant literature, it is concluded that faith development theory functions amongst church leaders who are constructing a post-liberal identity, as a framework for interpreting their own faith experience and that of those to whom they must relate. Finally, we consider the implications of this perspective upon faith development theory for pastoral theology, suggesting that studies of the social effects of Fowler's stages of faith, such as this one, form an important element in the theological assessment of faith development theory, and raise crucial questions about the kind of strategies for the maintenance of Christian identity which are appropriate in the post-modern world.