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  • Faith Development


    © Simon A. Eugster

Longitudinal Study of Faith Development in Germany and the USA

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Article Published:

14.08.2021 – Article: Faith development as change in religious types

(Streib, H., Chen, Z. J., & Hood, R. W. (2021). Faith development as change in religious types: Results from three-wave longitudinal data with faith development interviews. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, online-first, 1-10. (post-print at:

Categorizing People by Their Preference for Religious Styles

(Streib, H., Chen, Z. J., & Hood, R. W. (2020). Categorizing people by their preference for religious styles: Four types derived from evaluation of faith development interviews. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 30(2), 112-127. (post-print at:


For many years, the development of religion and worldview in the adult lifespan has been the focus of a longitudinal study at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (USA) and Bielefeld University (Germany). Grants from the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) enable the research teams at Bielefeld University, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to continue with their longitudinal investigation of faith development in the years 2022 to 2024. In 2022, research teams at UniBi and UTC could successfully implement the new research project, obtain approval from ethics committees of both universities, train interviewers, and begin re-interviewing previous participants after inviting them to answer our current online survey. 

This means that faith development research is on its way to a new level: Based on more than 1,500 faith development interviews (FDI) and questionnaire data from two decades, and a third of the participants being re-interviewees, this project will qualitatively and quantitatively document how faith and worldview in terms religious styles develop, what motivates such development, and what faith development may lead to, especially in terms of representations of transcendence, prejudice reduction, and openness for dialog.

Central questions

The questions that this project has the potential to answer are whether, how, why, and when in their lifetime individuals are changing their religion and worldview. We interpret such changes as migrations between developmentally ordered religious styles/types (Streib et al., 2020). Based on the data of our recently concluded third wave of field word, we could demonstrate that there is faith development; and we could initially identify predictors and outcomes (Streib et al., 2021). The current project (2022-2024) has a focus on two particularly interesting outcomes of faith development: (a) changes in people’s images of God and, in more general and inclusive terms: their symbolization of transcendence; and (b) their changes in prejudice and—with reference to the philosophy of the Alien—their responsiveness to the other, strange, and unknown. We assume that faith development results in narrative identity that affords a wise and humble response to the strange that we call xenosophia¹.

The current research is a contribution to answer these and other key questions using longitudinal data from Germany and the USA that were gathered in previous and current projects, which were based on faith development interviews (FDI) and questionnaire data (which include measures for personality, well-being, religious schema, mysticism, etc.). This project continues our research into a new wave of field work and will add hundreds of longitudinal re-interviews with the FDI to our data base. This will not only furnish longitudinal analyses with sufficient statistical power, but extends the longitudinal perspectives in our qualitative analyses.


Religious development is being studied using the faith development interview that James Fowler has introduced in the 1970s. The fully transcribed interviews are coded using our latest version of the Manual for the Assessment of Religious Styles.

All faith development interview participants are 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. Our new questionnaire now includes also measures for intellectual humility, God images, and questions for xenophobia and other prejudice. Thus, we may be able to relate the question of religious change to the psychological investigation in domains such as wisdom, God images, and prejudice.


Xenosophia describes a process that does not shield itself against the challenge and demand of the other/alien, but encounters the other with responsiveness and an openness for the unexpected. Xenosophia therefore is the kind of wisdom that constitutes paths of development contrary to the increasing othering in our world.

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