Faith Development Research

History and Conceptualization

Despite high demand of time, personnel and finances, we regard the Faith Development Interview (FDI), established by James Fowler, as the best way to assess religious styles. Consisting of 25 questions, the FDI starts with questions about „Life Review“ thus with an invitation for autobiographic narration, leading to the second and third section on „Relationships“, and of „Present Values and Commitments“, and ending with a fourth section about „Religion and World View“. Throughout our time working with this ingenious interview format, we have carefully adjusted it, and have continuously updated the evaluation method. For interested researchers all around the world, we provide in our download section the most recent list of questions as well as translations into different languages. The FDI was used in most of our work, and we will continue to work with and refine and update the FDI evaluation method.

The basis for a structural analysis of the interview is the Manual for Faith Development Research. Since 1986, its aim has always been assisting researchers in faith development research and warranting methodological consistency in the community of faith development researchers. Throughout the years, the Manual was revised and adapted from time to time in order to represent the latest state of research. While the second edition was slightly revised and expanded reacting to the growing dissertations and research projects worldwide and trying to keep faith development research up-to-date with current discussions in the field such as the feminist critique of faith development theory, in the third edition of the Manual, more decisive revisions were implemented such as the restructuring of the coding criteria along the different aspects of faith. The intent of this change was opening the research perspective for the differences between the aspects of faith, thereby accounting for obviously uneven distribution of stage assignments that were found in empirical research.

Recently, the fourth, considerably revised version of the Manual was published with the new title Manual for Religious Styles Research. This edition now takes up Streib`s proposal to speak of „styles“ rather than of „stages“. Furthermore, it implements the latest developments in developmental psychology and psychology of religion. From a life span perspective, development is conceptualized in multidimensional and multidirectional models, rather than as a sequence of predefined stages. thanks to these changes and a careful adaptation of the vocabulary, the Manual now provides a comprehensive guideline for analyzing FDIs with a variety of different kinds of people in a standardized way.

Operationalization for Empirical Research

The Faith Development Interview (FDI) is a time-consuming research instrument. 25 questions covering the areas of life review, relationships, values & commitments, and religion & world view – small wonder this takes a while. It is not uncommon to have interviews that last 1.5-2 hours or longer. The questions touch upon sensitive topics and areas of life, therefore it is necessary to have well-trained interviewers who are able to pose the questions adequately and to accompany and endure the answers. Interviewers must be aware of the possible depths the answers might dive into; but they also have to be familiar with the theoretical background in order to have follow-up questions at hand that generate answers that can be analyzed with the method proposed in the manual.

The interview needs a trustful atmosphere, conditions that invite participants to reflect on their lives and to give insights into their own world of ideas, even though the person they are talking to is a stranger.

Once the interview has been conducted and transcribed, the evaluation process can be started: With the aid of the Manual for the Assessment of Religious Styles the answers are subjected to a structural analysis. The single questions of the interview are assigned to different aspects of „faith“ these aspects are:

  • perspective taking
  • social horizon
  • morality
  • locus of authority
  • form of world coherence
  • symbolic function

The manual contains detailed coding criteria for each aspect. That way, a religious style can be assigned to every answer. The coder, after having read the interview answer and decided for a style, enters their assignment into a so-called scoring sheet, along with a justification based on the coding criteria. The scoring sheet is an excel document (which can be downloaded here) which in the end gives a good overview on how the religious styles are distributed throughout the interview. It does not only compute the mean score, but transfers the entered values into a clear figure.

Exemplary Empirical Results

Here you can see a sample figure that is created by filling out the scoring sheet:

Even by just looking at the figure you can see which style is the most prominent in the person analyzed here. The person can be found between style 3 and 4, 4 being the more dominant style. This is to be expected, according to the Faith Development Theory, since the person is a young adult who is currently shifting away from the opinions and attitudes of her family and peer group toward a more critical, individual stance. But you won´t find this transition from the mutual to the individuative-systemic style in all adults. Some will mainly remain within a style 3 framework, still prioritizing the means and opinions of their peers and other relevant groups.

There are even examples of people who are found to entertain a instrumental-reciprocal style in at least some of the aspects:

Here you can see that style 2 assignments mainly fall into the aspect perspective taking, while the rest of the answers can be located within style 3 thinking mainly. This illustrates that it makes sense to group questions along different aspects, since that way you can see how there are differently processed aspects of „faith“ in one person.

Streib, H. & Keller, B. (2018). Manual for the Assessment of Religious Styles in Faith Development Interviews (Fourth, revised edition of the Manual for Faith Development Research). Bielefeld: Research Center for Biographical Studies in Contemporary Religion.

Streib, H., Hood, R. W., & Klein, C. (2010). The Religious Schema Scale: Construction and Initial Validation of a Quantitative Measure for Religious Styles. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 20, 151-172. doi:10.1080/10508619.2010.481223 (pdf)

Streib, H., Klein, C., Keller, B., & Hood, R. W. (in press). Assessing Spirituality as Individualized Experience-Oriented Religion. The Mysticism Scale and Its Short Forms. In A. L. Ai, K. A. Harris, & P. Wink (Eds.), Assessing Spirituality and Religion in a Diversified World: Beyond the Mainstream Perspective. New York, London: Springer.