Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

Maturation process. Age is typically included in survey research as a demographic correlate of religiosity, even in the absence of any specific theory of its effects. By contrast, developmental psychologists such as Erikson (1950, 1959, 1982) focus explicitly on age-related developmental stages even though certain aspects of the more advanced stages of development are not necessarily connected with chronological age. Psychologists vary in terms of whether or not developmental stages are related to religious development. Those influenced by Freud most typically regard maturation as eliminating the need for religious illusions. However, not all developmental psychologists are this negative toward religion, and in fact, psychologists such as Kohlberg (1981) and Maslow (1964, 1968) emphasize the process of growth and development in terms of morality and meaning in life in a way that overlaps with religious and spiritual growth. Fowler (1981) provides an explicit focus on the religious or spiritual dimension of human life in a theory of specific stages of faith development (see also Fowler et al. 1991).

Both sociologists and psychologists emphasize parental influence on religious development and also growing independence from parents and expanding peer group influence in adolescence (see Benson et al. 1989 for a review). Most religious groups provide religious education and some form of rite of passage during adolescence to mark the transition to adulthood. Although young people in mainstream U.S. churches often drop out of organized religion during their adolescent and young adult years, some of them resume involvement in the religious group of their choice when they start their own families. In any case, the maturation process involves the development of one's own unique identity, a certain level of autonomy, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and this process generally includes a religious and/or moral orientation, whether or not it is expressed in institutional forms of religious group involvement. Moreover, the stages of moral development identified by Kohlberg (1981), for example, may be regarded as roughly parallel to alternative types or stages of religious development in terms of whether they reflect primarily a self-serving or egocentric orientation, conventional conformity, or commitment to abstract universal principles. In such theories, the highest stage of maturation would be consistent with the ideals of a universalistic religious orientation.

See also Faith Development, Carol Gilligan, Moral Development

Doyle Paul Johnson


P. L. Benson et al., "Adolescence and Religion," pp. 153-181 in Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 1 (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI, 1989)

E. H. Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York: Norton, 1950)

E. H. Erikson, Identity and the Life Cycle (New York: International Universities Press, 1959)

E. H. Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed (New York: Norton, 1982)

J. W. Fowler, Stages of Faith (San Francisco: Harper, 1981)

J. W. Fowler et al. (eds.), Stages of Faith and Religious Development (New York: Crossroad, 1991)

L. Kohlberg, The Philosophy of Moral Development (San Francisco: Harper, 1981)

A. H. Maslow, Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1964)

A. H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being (New York: Van Nostrand, 1968).

return to Encyclopedia Table of Contents

Hartford Institute for Religion Research   hirr@hartsem.edu
Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman Street, Hartford, CT 06105  860-509-9500