Friday, March 18, 2011

Acquisition of Religious Belief

I'm still reading Moojan Momen's book The Phenomenon of Religion. A Thematic Approach (Oneworld Publications, 1999), and blogging about what I find interesting in the book. Momen outlines the following three phases of a child's acquisition of religion, based on Herbert Kelman's work:

  1. COMPLIANCE. Initially, a child learns certain religious beliefs and behaviour through a mixture of reward and punishment. [...]
  2. IDENTIFICATION. This way of acquiring beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour involves taking someone whom one admires and trying to be like that person as much as possible. [...]
  3. INTERNALIZATION. While identification involves conforming, in order to think and act like an admired person, internalization involves a process of transforming oneself so that new ways of thinking and acting become a part of one's personality and being. These new ways are thus valued for themselves and can exist independently of what others may say or do and independently of whether an admired person says or does them. Most religious people would say that a person's religion is not trie religion until it exists at this level within the individual.
(Pp. 145 - 146.)

Momen uses James Fowler's work (based in turn on the works of Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erikson) to distinguish "six stages of faith development that are considered to evolve out of the basic pre-stage of undifferentiated faith that is characteristic of the first two years of life" (p. 147):

  1. INTUITIVE-PROJECTIVE FAITH. This is characteristic of ages 3-7. The child's faith is fantasy-filled and imitative of parents and other significant adults. There are the beginnings of awareness of self-identity, death and sex, and of the taboos related to each.
  2. MYTHIC-LITERAL FAITH. This corresponds to Piaget's stage of concrete operations (ages 7-11). It is when the child appropriates the stories, beliefs, and practices of his of her faith community. [...] Interpretation is, however, concrete and literal rather than abstract and symbolic.
  3. SYNTHETIC-CONVENTIONAL FAITH. [Emerges around adolescence.] It is at this stage that deeply-held values and beliefs are established often by identifying with and internalizing those of authority figures and role models: a personal ideology evolves.
  4. INDIVIDUATIVE-REFLECTIVE FAITH. This stage, which may occur in young adulthood, involves the integration of the various roles and patterns that the adolescent has acquired. [...] In relation to faith, this involves a realization of the fact that one's own view is only one of many possible worldviews and a rejection of literal interpretations of narratives and myths learned in childhood. [...]
  5. CONJUNCTIVE FAITH. This stage, which may emerge in mid-life, involves a sensitivity to patterns of interrelatedness. Efforts are made to accept and unify apparent opposites. There is a re-examination of the symbols and myths of the faith community and the development of an appreciation of these as a source of non-logical insights. The dangers if this stage are the development of passivity, complacency and cynical withdrawal.
  6. UNIVERSALIZING FAITH. Rarely, individuals may reach the stage which involves an awareness of an ultimate environment that is inclusive of all being. These individuals incarnate the spirit of an inclusive and fulfilled human community. They not only free themselves from the social, political, economic and ideological shackles that bind humanity but they create this possibility for others. Theirs is a universal, affirming, transcendent viewpoint. Because of this, they are often regarded by social institutions, including those of their religion, as being subversive.
The surveys that have been done to assess Fowler's stages have shown that there is a definite movement through stages 1 and 2 and into 3 in the first two decades of life (probably due to cognitive maturation, as described by Piaget). The evidence beyond this gets somewhat weaker, with roughly equal numbers past the age of 20 being assigned to stages 3 and 4, while 5 is uncommon and stage 6 is rare. [...] Thus it may be that [...] Fowler has taken the different styles of faith that exist in the world and given these a hierarchical value based on his own liberal Protestant Christian background.
(P. 147 - 148.)

Momen writes about what might be termed the context of discovery and the context of justification of religious belief:

William James argued that, in practice, human beings choose a particular conception of the world on the basis of faith and only then do they look for arguments to support the conclusions that they have reached. The work of several writers from fields other than religion seems to support James's view by describing parallel processes in other fields of human activity. (P. 149.)

This is an important passage that I must return to at a later time. It is of great importance to the issue of rationality, another special interest of mine.

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