A Tribute to James Fowler


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James Fowler, former Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University, and director for many years of both the Center for Ethics and the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development died on October 15, 2015. A Minister in the Methodist Church and a faculty member at Emory’s Candler School of Theology, Dr. Fowler was world renowned for his work arguing that there are stages of faith development akin to Piaget’s stages of cognitive development.
Fowler articulated his theory in his most famous work, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, which was published in 1981. The book, which virtually founded a field of inquiry, suggested that as the human beings develops, cognitive structures favor six phases of encounters with faith, from “Intuitive-Projective faith between 3-7 (characterized by fluidity in faith thinking) through the final phase, “universalizing”, where parochialism gives way to an acceptance of individual beliefs and respect of different faith approaches. Stages of Faith spawned significant empirical research and is still widely studied in the academy and read in seminaries of many different faiths across the world. Fowler also wrote or edited 11 books and numerous articles and book chapters.
In addition to his scholarly work, Fowler was the director of the Emory Center for Ethics from 1994 until a familial form of Alzheimer’s forced his retirement in 2005. Under his leadership the Center grew and flourished, and perhaps more importantly, developed a familial, mutually supportive culture between faculty and staff that continues to this day.
Jim Fowler grew up in North Carolina, attended Duke University and Drew Seminary, and received his PhD in Religion and Society from Harvard University. Before moving to Emory, Jim taught at Harvard Divinity School and Boston College. Named by Emory the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development in 1987, he also directed the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development.
To those who knew him, Jim Fowler was a model of personal integrity, a kind and warm human being, and a calming and wise presence. His work, and the power of his personal grace, have had a lasting impact on the greater Atlanta community as well as on his colleagues and students worldwide.

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