Integral Institute paid a formal tribute to Dr. James W. Fowler’s extraordinary body of work, presenting him with a very special lifetime achievement award—the first Integral Spirituality Award ever presented. It was an incredibly moving occasion for everyone involved, and remains one of the most poignant memories in Integral Spiritual Center’s already abundant legacy. What follows is a very special 2-hour presentation of Dr. Fowler’s body of work, led by Rollie Stanich with additional commentary by Ken Wilber.
Dr. James W. Fowler III is Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University, and was director of both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Center for Ethics until he retired in 2005. He is a minister in the United Methodist Church, and is best known for his book Stages of Faith, published in 1981, in which he sought to develop the idea of a developmental process in faith.
During the 2007 Integral Spiritual Center conference, Integral Institute paid a formal tribute to Dr. Fowler’s extraordinary body of work, presenting him with a very special lifetime achievement award—the first Integral Spirituality Award ever presented. It was an incredibly moving occasion for everyone involved, and remains one of the most poignant memories in Integral Spiritual Center’s already abundant legacy.
What is of ultimate concern?
Rollie begins by explaining three central intentions behind his presentation on Dr. Fowler’s work. First, he hopes to accurately communicate what Fowler means by the faith—it is, after all, a tremendously loaded word, wrapped in many different and often-conflicting interpretations, and we must first define our terms in a cogent and meaningful way if the discussion is to go anywhere.
Second, he will offer a detailed overview of each of Dr. Fowler’s proposed stages of faith. The purpose of this presentation, he explains, isn’t just to better understand and qualify the world around us, but to bring more love, more consciousness, and more skill to all of our relationships—meeting people exactly where they are with a full and open heart.
Finally, and most Rollie invokes the enormous implications and opportunities Fowler’s work has to offer the future of spirituality on this planet. His Stages of Faith represents one of first fundamental steps toward a “universal catechism” approach to all the world’s religious and spiritual traditions, capable of guaging and guiding people’s growth through the entire spectrum of human potential.
He then situates Fowler’s work in context of Integral theory and practice, emphasizing the Stages of Faith as one of many different developmental lines—each measuring distinct “intelligences” or vectors of human growth. Other examples of these developmental lines include cogntion (studied by Piaget and Aurobindo), values (studied by Graves, Beck, and Cowan), self identity (studied by Cook-Greuter and Loevinger), worldviews (studied by Gebser), and morals (studied by Kohlberg). Taken together, these psychological models offer a comprehensive map of human growth and development in all its multifarious dimensions. Each successive stage of consciousness adds more complexity and more understanding of the world around us, as well as more capacity for love, compassion, and connection. By ascending the spire of psychological development to higher and higher altitudes of consciousness, humanity becomes increasingly more human with each and every step.
What is faith?
“As human beings, we have imaginations, intuitions, and moments of awakening that disturb us into awareness of dimensions of circumambient reality that we can only name on our own as Mystery. And yet our feet mire in the clay of everyday toil—getting and giving, spending and being spent—in the struggle for survival and meaning. In the midst of contingency, suckled on uncertainty, we spend our blessed and threatened years becoming selves through relationships of trust and loyalty with others like us—persons in communities. We attach to one another in love; we struggle with fidelity and infidelity; we share our visions of ultimate destiny and calling; our projections and hope; our moments of revelations. We are language-related, symbol-born, and story-sustained creatures. We do not live long or well without meaning—that is to say, we are creatures who live by faith.” –James Fowler
Faith, Rollie reminds us, is better understood as a verb than a noun. It’s original meaning, unfortunately lost in modern English translation, is “to set one’s heart on”—that is, to set your heart upon something is to place your faith in it, to enact a sacred connection between lover and Beloved. The shape, range, and intensity of this faith can change over time, growing through magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, and integral stages of development—but the overall role of faith as a fountainhead of meaning and purpose remains a permanent fixture in our hearts, regardless of our explicit relationship with God, spirituality, or religion.
Ken offers a brief summary of the distinction between states of consciousness and stages of consciousness, both of which have had a profound influence upon how we think of and relate to our faith. Vertical stages of development (such as Fowler’s Stages of Faith) act as containers of consciousness—unseen structures that pattern our knowledge and mold our interpretations of the world around and within us. Horizontal states, on the other hand, are the stuff of experience itself—gross physical and emotional experiences; subtle visions, inspirations, and revelations; causal glimpses of transcendence, clarity, and emptiness; nondual states of radical union, flow, and atonement.
Spiritual practice such as meditation or contemplative prayer typically works to transform temporary states into permanent traits by stabilizing gross, subtle, causal, and nondual states in succession. However, we do not experience these horizontal states in a rigidly sequential way like we do vertical stages of development. States are ever-present, meaning they are accessible to all people at all times—“peak experiences” that punctuate our personal narratives with moments of catharsis, epiphany, clarity, and unity. This is true regardless of our psychological and spiritual growth—a person can experience a subtle state of divine Illumination early in life at Fowler’s stage 2 (Mythic-Literal), and then again decades later, after developing to stage 6 (Universalizing). Though the actual phenomenological state may be similar, the interpretations of the experience would differ drastically from different altitudes of consciousness, with an immense chasm of meaning, context, and sense of personal duty separating the two experiences.
Finally, Rollie offers a quick breakdown of some of the different ideas people typically have when they hear the word spiritual: the idea of spirituality as it’s own developmental line; spirituality as the highest potential in any developmental line; spirituality as first-hand experience of the divine; spirituality as a general attitude, disposition, or openness; etc. Again, as it pertains to Fowler’s work, we are discussing the first definition: spirituality as a distinct line of human development, growing through its own stages of maturity—in fact, while many other versions are certainly possible (and needed!), Fowler’s work represents one of the finest and most sophisticated treatments of the spiritual line of development that we have ever seen.
About Rollie Stanich
Rollie has played a vital part in the emerging Integral movement as the Chief Facillitator of Integral Spiritual Center, as a former managing editor of Integral Naked from 2004-2005, and as an ongoing contributor to Integral Life. Rollie's spiritual path is that of contemplative Christianity—he is a practitioner of Centering Prayer and a longtime student of Fr. Thomas Keating.
About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.