Defense Date


Graduation Date



Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Instructional Leadership Excellence (ILEAD)


School of Education

Committee Chair

William P. Barone

Committee Member

Ernest Dettore

Committee Member

Gary Shank


African American Children and faith, African American faith, faith


The purpose of this research was to determine if African American children progressed through developmental faith stages in the same manner as the subjects described by Fowler in his seminal work on faith development (1981). In Developmental Psychology, many theories with stages have been developed and many studies conducted in the areas of cognitive, psychosocial, creative, and moral development. These studies have explored Erickson's stages of psychosocial development, (1963); Kohlberg's stages of moral development, (1969); and Piaget's stages of cognitive development (1967). There remains, however, limited research examining faith development and faith experiences with African American children during the early childhood years. This investigation sought to explore how African American children understand and express their concept of faith, and to determine if they were congruent with the first two faith stages in the construct developed by Fowler (1981). The use of case study and ethnography as a qualitative research methodology was used to investigate these questions. The case study method provided a rich context in which to view the lives of four urban African American children, two boys 7 and 10 years of age and two girls, 5 and 8 years of age. The method used also provided "a voice" for the participants and the researcher to explore their unique understanding of their faith development. Also, in order to understand the role of inter-generational faith transmission, an interview was conducted with four African American women related to two of the participants. The four children selected attended an urban public school in a mid-size northeastern city. All of the subjects attended and participated in activities at the same church. The interviews with the children and their parents were tape recorded for further analysis. Each of the recorded interviews was analyzed using a construct derived from the indicators of Stage One and Stage Two faith development described in the original Fowler study. In addition, the children were asked to create a pictorial representation of their faith. These drawings were also analyzed using a construct derived from the works of Coles, (1990); Deleon, (1983); Eng, (1959); Kellogg, (1967); Levick, (1988); and Lowenfeld, (1982). A finding of the study is that the African American culture and world view seem to have a significant impact on faith stage development in these children. Although the children were in varying stages of cognitive development all of them responded to the age/stage of faith development at a higher level than the stages described by Fowler (1981). All of the children provided a rich pictorial representation of their faith that is unique to the African American culture. Furthermore, all of the children described God anthropomorphically and assigned other attributes of a friend or parent which differed from the Fowler study. These findings suggest that stages of faith development are specific to the African American culture and could be used to further investigate the phenomenon of childhood faith/spirituality within the constructs of the African American culture and world view. Furthermore, early childhood educators can improve classroom environments for these children by recognizing the significance of the "faith factor" as an integral cultural component. African American children operate within the construct of being connected to others and they are guided by the principal of "community". These children probably thrive better in classrooms that provide opportunities for collaboration, working in small groups, discussing social justice issues as well as having generational experiences. These opportunities help the children develop a feeling of "oneness" which can have significant impact on their self esteem and ultimately have an impact on school achievement.