Longitudinal Study of Relgious Development in Germany and U.S.A.


Religious development is being studied for the first time using the faith development interview in cross-cultural and longitudinal research. Research teams at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) and Bielefeld University (Germany) cooperate in a project with the focus of re-interviewing the same persons with the faith development interview. Research in the USA is funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (JTF), for the already completed first phase of the study we have received a grant from JTF and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

James Fowler's theory of faith development has inspired numerous research projects using the faith development interview, which Fowler introduced as instrument in the 1970s. However, in the long and respectable tradition of research in faith development, there is no major study with a longitudinal design. Thus, strictly speaking, developmental change in faith has never been evidenced empirically. Instead, all empirical results rest on the documentation of age specific preferences for specific faith stages, which are then interpreted in a framework of unquestioned conceptual assumptions that are suggested in the structural-developmental tradition.

Central questions

This project seeks answers to the following questions:

  • Is there in fact development of faith, religion and - in a wider perspective: world views - across the life span?
  • How is such development reflected in the faith development interviews?
  • Can this development be understood as change of religious styles and religious schemata?
  • What is the biographical and micro-sociological context of religious development?
  • How is faith development related to indicators of emotional and cognitive development?
  • What are the outstanding psychological correlates of faith development?
  • If there is religious development, is it mono-directional and irreversible? Is regression possible?
  • Which model of development is supported by the data?

Our research design includes the relation (triangulation) of qualitative and quantitative data. All faith development interview participants will be invited to fill out a questionnaire that includes, besides comprehensive demographics, a number of scales e.g. about personality, religious schemata, centrality of religiosity, fundamentalism, pluralism, images of God, mystical experiences, intolerance of ambiguity, generativity, or psychological well-being and growth.

Evaluation and elaboration of cases studies, however, rests on the triagulation of qualitative and quantitative data of the research participants. On the basis of a questionnaire with detailed demographics and a number of scales, psychological predictors and correlates for developmental change over time can be assessed and analyzed.

Evaluation thus combines quantitative and qualitative approaches, and builds on the experience already accumulated in previous Bielefeld-Chattanooga studies.