Stages of Faith: Stage 5 - Conjunctive Faith

James Fowler says that reaching Stage 5, which he calls "Conjunctive Faith," is "unusual before mid-life" (Stages, 198), although it should be noted that a significant minority of people in their thirties, even some people in their twenties, are best described as Stage 5.1

"The name of this stage," he writes in Faithful Change, "implies a rejoining or a union of that which previously has been separated" (64). One moves into Stage 5 when one moves beyond the "either/or" dichotomizing logic of Stage 4, and begins to think more dialectically or dialogically (Stages, 185). He says that the name was inspired by Nicolas of Cusa's notion of the coincidentia oppositorum, "the 'coincidence of opposites' in our apprehensions of truth" (Faithful, 64). Someone at this stage grasps the interrelatedness or interconnectedness of things.

"In dialogical knowing," Fowler writes, "the known is invited to speak its own word in its own language... The knower seeks to accomodate her or his knowledge to the structure of that which is known before imposing her or his own categories upon it" (Stages, 185).

In Stage 4, one sees the emergence of what Fowler calls the "executive ego" (Stages, 179). This is when the individual begins to take responsibility for his or her beliefs, commitments, values, etc. Authority, which had always previously been external, is now located internally. This does not change in Stage 5, but now the executive ego "must come to terms with the fact that its confidence is based at least in part upon illusion or upon seriously incomplete self-knowledge" (Faithful, 64). Whereas the Stage 4 individual has great confidence in the conscious mind, the Stage 5 individual begins to see this as overconfidence, begins to appreciate the reality and the influence of the unconscious mind, and grasps the need to integrate the conscious and unconscious (Stages, 186).

Stage 5 also brings a different relationship with religious symbols. In Stage 4, the individual is preoccupied with "demythologizing":
Stage 4 is concerned to question symbolic representations and enactments and to force them to yield their meanings for translation into conceptual or propositional statements. As such, Individual-Reflective faith wants to bring the symbolic representation into its (Stage 4's) circle of light and to operate on it, extracting its meanings. This leaves the person or group in Stage 4 clearly in control. The meaning so grasped may be illuminating, confronting, harshly judgmental or gently reassuring. But whatever its potential impact, its authentication and weight will be assigned in accordance with the assumptions and commitments that already shape the circle of light in which it is being question. It will not be granted the initiative. (Stages, 187)
The Stage 5 individual does not abandon this critical approach, but moves beyond it. Stage 5 does not regress to the pre-critical approach of Stage 3 (and earlier), but moves forward into a post-critical phase, which Fowler identifies with Paul Ricoeur's notion of the "second naïveté" (Stages, 187). Here the individual develops "a readiness to enter into the rich dwellings of meaning that true symbols, ritual and myth offer" (Faithful, 65).

These need not be the symbols, rituals or myths of one's own tradition, either. Someone at this stage, Fowler writes, "is ready for significant encounters with other traditions than its own, expecting that truth has disclosed and will disclosed itself in those traditions in ways that may complement or correct its own" (Stages, 186).2

Conjunctive Stage by Aspects:
Form of Logic (Piaget): Formal Operations (Dialectical)
Perspective Taking (Selman): Mutual with groups, classes and traditions "other" than one's own
Form of Moral Judgment (Kohlberg): Prior to society, Principaled higher law (universal and critical)
Bounds of Social Awareness: Extends beyond class norms and interests. Disciplined ideological vulnerability to "truths" and "claims" of outgroups and other traditions
Locus of Authority: Dialectical joining of judgment-experience processes with reflective claims of others and of various expressions of cumulative human wisdom
Form of World Coherence: Multisystemic and conceptual mediation
Symbolic Function: Postcritical rejoining of irreducible symbolic power and ideational meaning. Evocative power inherent in the reality in and beyond symbol and in the power of unconscious processes in the self (Fowler, 244)

[1] See the age distribution chart in Stages, 318. It shows that 14.6% of the Fowler's subjects aged 31-40 were solidly at Stage 5, and 3.3% of those aged 21-30 were in Stages 4-5. This reflects his research done in the 1970s. I suspect the number might be somewhat higher today, although my reason for suspecting this owes more to my reading of Ken Wilber rather than Fowler. I intend to touch on that in the future, when I get more into Wilber's ideas.

[2] For a quite brilliant example this, see Paul F. Knitter's recent book, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian.

Next: Stage 6 - Universalizing Faith

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