Saturday, October 23, 2010

Faith Development Theory Written by Kylee Vanek

Summary of Theory
The Faith Development Theory was first developed by Sharon Dolaz Parks in 1986 and then expanded on and modified in 2000. To develop the theory, Parks drew heavily on the work of earlier theorists; Perry, Kegan & Gilligan and Fowler. Their theories dealing with cognitive development, interpersonal development and community are very evident in Parks’ work.
Faith as defined by Parks is, “the activity of seeking and discovering meaning in the most comprehensive dimensions of our experience” (Parks, p. 7).  Parks developed four periods associated with faith development: adolescent/conventional, young adult, tested adult, and mature adult. As individuals develop they have new ways of understanding, which Parks refers to as “forms of knowing.” These forms are authority-bound, unqualified relativism, probing commitment, tested commitment and conviction commitment.
Parks criticizes the importance American culture puts on independence, instead of focusing on inner dependence and the interconnectedness that all individuals share. Due to this critique, Parks discusses the different forms of dependence individuals experience and the forms of community that can empower them as they move towards a greater inner dependence. While not linear, these forms of dependency do allow for individuals to have an increasing awareness of their relationships with others. Individuals experience dependence/counter dependence, fragile inner dependence, confident inner dependence and eventually interdependence. In correlation the communities which individuals are involved in evolve, as well. Conventional communities, diffuse communities, mentoring communities, self-selected groups and open to the other are all communities that individuals may be a part of during their faith development. As individuals move through these communities it is important that these communities offer support and challenge to the individuals. 

Uses in Higher Education
The Faith Development Model is most applicable to higher education when it comes to faculty and staff members’ roles as mentors. The process of offering mentorships that balance both challenge and support to students is vital. This theory is also applicable in aiding students in developing their ability to question and develop their own truths. Higher education is a place for students to grow in their understanding of the academic world, but also in terms of their own self identities. Higher education must be a community that allows for questioning, reflection and a place to give voice to each person’s own beliefs.  
Annotated Bibliography
Watt, S.K. (2003). Come to the River: Using Spirituality to Cope, Resist, and Develop Identity. New Directions for Student Services,104, 29-40. doi:10.1002/55.105
Sherry Watt conducted a qualitative study in 1997 that looks at the experiences of African American college women to understand how they use faith to cope with negative stereotypes. This study involved 48 women among four focus-groups. Watt noted limitations with previous faith development theories including that of Parks. Four themes emerged from the study that reflected Parks’ importance of mentors including; Relation Are Our Teachers, Strong Women-Absent Men, Responsibility to Younger Siblings/Families and Important Relationships.  Watt provided valuable implications for the practice of student affairs based on the study focusing on holistic development, support and recognizing the value that spirituality has in individuals’ lives.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed., pp. 202-211). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Parks, S.D. (2000). Big questions, worthy dreams: Mentoring young adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Watt, S.K. (2003). Come to the River: Using Spirituality to Cope, Resist, and Develop Identity. New Directions for Student Services,104, 29-40. doi:10.1002/55.105


  1. I love the idea of voice in student development. Three of the theories we've studied so far have discussed the immaturity of silence (and not only audible silence) and the actualization of knowledge through speaking. In the case of faith, testimony is bring belief to reality by speaking. There is so much power in words.

  2. It is interesting to see the connection between the self-indentity development and the external parties. For instant, this theory provides a great opportunity for mentorship from faculties and other authorities. They help students establish their abilities to find self truths and beliefs they have as if the inner-dependence is highly influence by the external authorities. In contrast to the theory of self-authorship, the individual developed their inner-voice or self-authorship as they make sense of the external parties but choose to act and believe in what they strongly feel and know despite of external factors' influence. In both ways, I think the individual continues to learn and develop maturity as they find and question truths about themselves based on their experiences.

  3. I too like the inter-connectedness of faith with external groups or communities. The connection between faith and/or spirituality and community groups indicates the need for individuals to have support structures in order to succeed in many aspects of college life and personal developoment. Faith/Spirituality asks to students to define personal principles and thus, they seek out groups and communities that exemplify those principles and create a sense of "belonging." I think it's important to have these "community refuges" to foster greater independent strength when confronting externalities, but also, for a foundational comparison that leads to meaningful self-reflection and ideally, personal growth and development. It's easier to develop when you've established a foundation on which to build and navigate through varying experiences.

  4. I used Park's Faith Development theory for our assignment of identifying college student development theories in literature with the book A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind. Applying this theory to Cedric Jennings (the main character) really helped me to understand this theory as encompassing both cognitive growth, but also interconnectedness. In regards to forms of community, I wrote that, "[Cedric] seems to very thoughtful about who his friends are and what activities he engages in during high school and his freshman year at Brown because he walks in two worlds - being raised for most of his life in the ghetto and moving into the dominance of whiteness at Brown - where he is still trying to figure out who is according to both communities."

  5. I selected Parks's Faith Development Theory and applied it to Stevie in Ain't Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice. Although gender identity is the dominant theme in the book, Stevie authors her own faith as she establishes her identity.

    For example, Stevie spends the majority of the book in transition from unqualified relativism to a probing and tested commitment. Upon moving to San Francisco, Stevie questions her friend Traci about going to church. On other occasions, it becomes apparent when Stevie is talking to her mother that she is questioning the religious beliefs she grew up with and has transitioned to a state of “conscious conflict” (Evans et al., 2010, p. 206). The conflict consists of identifying with homosexuals while questioning religious beliefs. This process builds Stevie’s confidence internally as she authors her own beliefs culminating in a conversation with her ailing grandmother that helps her articulate a key form of knowing. Stevie says, “I guess if you love yourself, then you find a loving God” (p. 323). As Stevie is able to say this to her Grandmother, she experiences an “aha” moment (Evans et al., 2010, p. 206) followed by a “repatterning” and interpretation that bridge her childhood beliefs with a new found definition of God. This process signals a new beginning as the book ends with Stevie stating that she is “still on the road” (p. 324) to self discovery.

  6. In correlation to the Christian communities, it is the ideal thing that we have to develop the right way of believing our faith because this is the most important thing that we should have to learn.

    Who am I | Legalism

  7. thanks for this theory of the faith development! will tell you about different forms of development!