Where we succeed: Mormon Pedagogy and Fowler’s Stages of Faith, Part Two

I think that we Mormons help people transitioning from Fowler’s stage 2 to Fowler’s stage 3 remarkably well. I think saying we are in the top 5 or 10% here would not be exaggerating. For those who are not familiar with Fowler’s stages I’ll give a brief summary of stages 2, 3, and the transition in between, followed by why we as Mormons do so well.

Fowler calls stage 2 the “Mythic literal” stage of faith development. If you want to see stage 2 in action, go to Primary. Persons stage 2 learn the stories of a faith community and learn the morals of that faith community. They are developing a narrative of what it means to be a member of that faith community, but they have not yet integrated this narrative into their identity. Children and very young teenagers tend to inhabit stage two.

Stage 3 is called the “Synthetic-Conventional” stage. This stage usually happens during the teenage years. A person in stage 3 has successfully integrated their faith into their identity. They have developed a more or less consistent ideology of what their faith means. Faith is no longer a narrative, but a world view which gives meaning to not only the life of faith but to family life, work life etc. They have learned to conform to the social structures of their faith community. Finally authority figures are recognized and located in traditional authority roles.

Transitioning from stage 2 to 3 involves personal maturation to the point where one can have a personal relationship with the religious environment. It also involves resolution of minor clashes that lead to a reflection on what the faith community means.

Mormons navigate these stages very well in my opinion. A combination of pedagogy, social structures, and our unique epistemology work together to make sure that a large percentage of youth navigate these stages well.

Pedagogy

  • We ignore the messiness of texts This was the observation of the original post at By Common Consent, and it was deemed negative. However, this is very positive for people in these stages. By ignoring messiness you emphasize the unity and consistency of the message. If you are developing a consistent ideology then nothing could be better.
  • Jumping from texts to quotes from General Authorities One of the complaints in Midgely’s original article is that Millet and McConkie used the Book of Mormon as a jumping off point to quote General Authorities. Again this diverts from the messiness of the text and emphasizes unity of doctrine, hence aiding in developing a consistent ideology. Also, it reinforces traditional authority roles, which is essential for stage 3 development.
  • Contemporizing texts There is a strong tendency in Mormon pedagogy to “liken all scriptures unto us” (1 Ne 19:23). This aids in integrating faith into identity. Also, likening the scriptures in practice usually means that one thinks of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as Mormons, just like us, except that they spoke a different language and did not wear white shirts and ties. This helps in developing a consistent ideology, the ideology is universal and is shared by people thousands of years ago.

Social Structures

  • Sacrament meeting participation Starting at age 12 Mormon youth are expected to be full contributing members in Sacrament meetings by giving talks and sharing testimony. I don’t know of other churches that expect youth to directly participate in the main worship services. They might fill ancillary or assisting roles (such as altar boy), but not be the star of the show. Male youth are expected to be in charge of a sacred ordinance (sacrament). By integrating youth directly into the social structures of sacrament meeting they learn the ins and outs by direct participation
  • Youth leadership Again at age 12 pretty much every youth is given some leadership position with the same titles as those adults have (President, 1st counselor etc.). They are acclimatized to how the church is run in a very direct manner. This of course aids in conforming to social structures
  • Temple attendance Youth are expected to attend the temple, much like adults are. This aids in learning Mormon social structures and ideology in a very hands on manner.

Epistemology

  • Personal Revelation Our epistemology of personal revelation is not unique, other churches want people to have a personal relationship with Jesus. But we are unique in that this is the only valid way to knowledge in the Mormon church. In essence we say that faith HAS to be integrated into your identity at a personal level. This is exactly what you need to do in Stage 3.
  • Praying about the big 4 As Mormons we are expected to get a personal testimony that 1) Jesus is your savior and redeemer, 2) That Joseph Smith was a prophet, 3) That the Book of Mormon is true and that 4) The current leadership is authorized to lead the church through priesthood power. By doing this you integrate faith, consistent ideology, social structures, and authority roles into your identity. This aids in integrating and congealing all of the hallmarks of stage 3 development.

In short I think we do a magnificent job navigating stages 2 and 3. It is something we should be proud of.

Part 3

  • http://www.nine-moons.com Seth R.

    “Millet and McConkie used the Book of Mormon as a jumping off point to quote General Authorities.”

    McConkie?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David Clark

    Seth,

    Joseph F. McConkie, not his dad.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    I have to confess I’m deeply skeptical about Fowler’s whole taxonomy. (It always comes across as a tad self-serving and not as empirical as he thinks it is)

    Having said that though while what you say is probably true here about how we treat the scriptures and our “quasi-scriptures” I’m not sure it gets at how we behave in practice everywhere else. That is how we act towards our leaders and so forth. This is, in part, due to the fact that many end up in leadership positions of some sort in their life. Often, for men, on their missions at an early age. I don’t think the realities of being a leader allow for quite the romantic view of leadership that Fowler’s step 2 wants to entail.

    Put an other way, while I think this probably describes one aspect of the adult Mormon’s life quite well in an other way it completely leaves out a very important aspect.

  • David Clark

    I have to confess I’m deeply skeptical about Fowler’s whole taxonomy. (It always comes across as a tad self-serving and not as empirical as he thinks it is)

    I don’t see how it’s self serving, please enlighten me. As for not being empirical enough, you can say that about anything in the social sciences. It’s an interesting theory that I think accounts for a certain set of religious phenomena. But, I am not going to bet my life on it being correct.

    I don’t think the realities of being a leader allow for quite the romantic view of leadership that Fowler’s step 2 wants to entail.

    Having read his Stages of Faith from cover to cover I confess that I didn’t see anything about leadership being related to any of the stages of faith. Please provide more background as to what I am missing.

    Often, for men, on their missions at an early age.

    I was going to talk about missions in my third post. However, the tepid response these posts are generating makes me think no one really cares, so why bother.

    Put an other way, while I think this probably describes one aspect of the adult Mormon’s life quite well in an other way it completely leaves out a very important aspect.

    To what are you referring? My emphasis was on how church pedagogy is designed to help children and adolescents successfully navigate stage 2 and 3 development. I’m at a loss to see how I touched on Mormon adult life, am I missing something?

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/ BHodges

    “I was going to talk about missions in my third post. However, the tepid response these posts are generating makes me think no one really cares, so why bother.”

    Please, continue to bother. I really like, first of all, how you introduce a positive aspect of the McConkie/Millett approach despite my personal qualms with it. Your thoughts thus far, then, have opened me again to their approach as finding it fruitful for what it is worth, though I believe it shouldn’t prevent seeking further light and knowledge, if you will.

    I’m currently working on a series with Brant Gardner on “likening with care,” in which I discuss various ways of interpreting the Book of Mormon. I plan to use some of your thoughts in an upcoming part of that series, so keep them coming if you will.

    see http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2008/09/introduction-to-second-witness-with.html and the subsequent posts.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    While I’ll admit to a healthy distrust of a lot done in the social sciences I do think there is stuff done that is fairly empirical with lots of randomized study and categories that are carefully chosen to not be biasing. Part of the problem with Fowler is that, despite his caveats, he appears to see it as a kind of progression of maturity. This biases him a fair bit (IMO).

    Beyond that I’d have to go back to the writings and I did that after someone at Sunstone discussed the book. I’ve no real desire to spend the time to do that. (I’m too far behind on the the things I find more valuable to read and reread)

    Regarding leadership I think you missed my point. The practical realities of being in a leadership position and see the failures of leadership affect how we view faith. The point being that the discourse we provide about how Mormons view the scriptures is true enough but ignores other aspects of faith in the LDS community.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Oh, I see where the confusion is. I posted in the wrong area. (I had both up on my screen at the same time)

    In part 1 you said,

    I think that the standard pedagogy of the Mormon church is one of our greatest strengths and one of our greatest weaknesses, and that it explains two seemingly divergent phenomenon in the church: our above average ability to keep youth strong in the faith and our massive failures at keeping young single adults strong in the faith. I have seen several statistics showing that whatever you think about Mormon youth, they on average do better than others their age in other Christian faiths with regards to activity levels. I also have been in several meetings where there is a lot of hand wringing over what to do about the YSA population which is going inactive in droves.

    My point was that I think leadership leads to a pedagogy that one doesn’t find in the simple-minded way of teaching history and scripture.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David Clark

    My point was that I think leadership leads to a pedagogy that one doesn’t find in the simple-minded way of teaching history and scripture.

    OK, I see the part of the confusion. However, at least in my personal experience leadership has been either divorced completely from scripture or the same as normal pedagogy. However, I wouldn’t call it simple minded. Stage 3 is not simple minded.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David Clark

    Please, continue to bother.

    OK

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David Clark

    Clark,

    Do you discount the developmental theories of Kohlberg and Piaget or do you single out Fowler’s theory?

    I ask because I think given the subject matter Fowler has made attempts to make it as empirical as possible, unlike say Freud or Erikson who don’t really try and make their developmental theories empirical in any way. Do you think that there is a way to make Fowler’s theory more rigorous or does it resist rigor and thus should be abandoned a priori?

    Given the nature of the subject I think that clinical interviews with follow ups are the best one can hope for, which is what Fowler has done.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    I think Fowler’s use is problematic. The problem is that “empirical as possible” often isn’t terribly empirical. Maybe it’s my training in the hard sciences but I always found the excuses that its the best we can do deeply problematic. There’s lots of stuff like that in physics, for instance. The difference is that physicists don’t take the claims terribly seriously whereas sometimes in the softer sciences they take a life of their own.

    Why not just say we don’t know rather than developing an extensive model based upon loose rigor and then using that to make claims?

    Sorry, I probably shouldn’t start down that road as I just don’t have time to have that argument. It’s a problem I have with some work in the social sciences though.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David Clark

    Clark,

    Why not just say we don’t know rather than developing an extensive model based upon loose rigor and then using that to make claims?

    Because the social sciences deal with deeply human questions. The kinds of questions where “we don’t know” is simply not acceptable. Saying “we don’t know” to a question like, “Does the Higgs boson exist?” doesn’t affect anyone.

    Saying “we don’t know” to questions like “Why is that family falling apart?” or “Why is that church growing so fast while mine is stagnant?” or “Why is my faith changing, am I in apostacy?” is simply not acceptable. They require understanding, an answer, and perhaps a solution. Saying “we don’t know” leads either to quietism or to people offering solutions based on no rigor and no models. I’d prefer at least some attempt at objectivity rather than none.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    But it ought be acceptable. We wouldn’t trust a doctor who behaved this way. (Well, judging by the rise of “alternative medicine” many do) Why should it be acceptable here? There’s a kind of ends justifies the means justification that I find distasteful since the ends and means are so uncertain.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    Whoops. Ought not be acceptable.

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/ BHodges

    Clark, I think you are trying to force too much of an empiricists view onto social science. I don’t think Fowler’s stages can be quantified, and I don’t view them as such a solid continuum as he presents them, but the do provide a useful model imo.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    For the record I think there is plenty of good empirical social science. However I don’t find the rest terribly trustworthy. If we’re using it to fix problems then color me doubly skeptical for the same reason I’m very skeptical of alternative medicine and people making outlandish claims for vitamins.

  • James

    “I was going to talk about missions in my third post. However, the tepid response these posts are generating makes me think no one really cares, so why bother.”

    I have nothing to add, but will say I have found this subject fascinating. I thought I’d speak up by way of encouragement. Keep it coming, I say!

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    Let me chime in really briefly here. First of all, please do keep up this series. I’ve been meaning to comment since the first post, but time usually gets the best of me (I can barely keep up with my own threads!). One of the interesting things you’ll find at FPR is that the best posts sometimes generate the least discussion.

    Secondly, I think the “success” of a theory such as Kolhberg’s or Fowler’s depends on the degree in which his less substantiated claims are meant heuristically. In other words, I find it highly problematic if his claim were, “All human beings tend to develop in these stages” (and not having read him, I’m not sure if his claim is this strong); but much less problematic if he’s saying, “We can use these stages as a way of talking about human development.” The latter I see more as a tool with which to attend to analysis. The former I see as the result of sustained analysis. Assuming that one is willing to abandon the tool if proven to be unhelpful in analysis, I see no problem with using it.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw Clark

    David, just a note, despite my completely disagreeing with Fowler I do enjoy these posts. People disagreeing politiely is what makes blogs as good as tehy are. So I hope you keep it up. While I disagree pretty vehemently with Fowler I think there are tangents that arise in the discussion that are very useful.


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