ch.7 - Chapter 7 Fundamentals of Human Development Religion...

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J.M. Nelson, Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-87573-6_0, @ Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009 211 Chapter 7 Fundamentals of Human Development, Religion, and Spirituality A central feature of both religious and psychological understandings of the human condition is that people are not static entities. Life from birth to death involves many changes in our physical, psychological, and spiritual makeup. In psychology, this issue has been explored through two major schools of thought—the psychodynamic tradition (see Chapter 5) and the cognitive-structuralist school. In this chapter, we will look at variations on the structural approach. In the following two chapters, we will expand our understanding of religious and spiritual development during child- hood, adolescence, and adulthood by considering the empirical literature and some other approaches in the context of these theories. 7.1 Basic Issues in Developmental Theory The most fundamental issue confronted by developmental theory is that of stability and change, an issue that has caused sharp disagreements in Western thought ever since the debates of Plato and the Presocratic philosophers. It is obvious that as we grow older we change, but at the same time we remain the same person in some essential way. Is this true, and if so how does it happen? How do change and stabil- ity apply to our religious and spiritual lives? 7.1.1 The Nature of the Change Process and Time In general, three different kinds of developmental metaphors appear in human thought. In the first set of models, development is thought of like climbing a lad- der. As we age, we climb higher and higher on the ladder through a universal, fixed set of stages and reach increasingly sophisticated levels of development, while still dealing with basic issues raised at lower stages (cf. Spidlik, 1986, p. 71, 2005, pp. 207–209; Casey, 1995). These hierarchical theories of development can be found in both Eastern and Western religious thought, as well as in psychologies as diverse as those of Jean Piaget and Abraham Maslow. In a second metaphor, life is seen as a circle, which proceeds through a series of predictable periods. During
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212 7 Fundamentals of Human Development, Religion, and Spirituality the early part of the cycle, we grow and add abilities as we encounter predictable, age-related life tasks, while in the later part of life we decline or reflect over what had gone before. This metaphor is developed in life span theories of development, which can be found in South Asian religious literature and in the work of psycho- dynamic psychologists like Erik Erickson. Both hierarchical and life span theories often think of development as taking place in stages. In hierarchical theories, only a few individuals reach the final stages of development, while lifespan theorists think of all individuals as passing through the various stages of life if they live into old age. In a third metaphor, development is thought of like a journey or—to
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ch.7 - Chapter 7 Fundamentals of Human Development Religion...

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