James W. FowlerJames W. Fowler III, Charles Howard Candler Professor Emeritus of Theology and Human Development and former director of the Emory Center for Ethics, died on October 16 at age 75, following a battle with Alzheimer's disease. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, October 24, at 2:00 p.m. in the sanctuary of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church. Steven M. Tipton, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Sociology of Religion, offers this remembrance.

Every human being lives by faith, James Fowler taught us, in wondrous ways that embrace the whole of humankind yet ring true to the everyday experience and soulful story that each of us lives out.

Jim taught by radiant example in word and deed alike, through the practical wisdom of his work and the generosity of his spirit. A scholar of extraordinary depth and range across the disciplines of theology, ethics, psychology, and the social study of religion in comparative perspective, Jim drew on a lifetime of faithful membership and ministry to bring the encompassing sweep of his intellectual vision down to the ground of actual communities of worship and spiritual formation, pastoral care and counseling, moral education and social witness.

Raised in a Methodist minister’s family in the mountains of western North Carolina, Jim Fowler graduated with honors in History from Duke University in 1962, and earned a BD in Theology and Ethics at Drew in 1965.  He completed a PhD at Harvard in Religion and Society in 1971 with a dissertation published as To See the Kingdom: The Theological Vision of H. Richard Niebuhr. He taught theology and human development at Harvard Divinity School (1969-1976) and Boston College (1976-77) before joining the faculty of Emory’s Candler School of Theology, where he was named Charles Howard Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development in 1987.  He directed both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Center for Ethics at Emory, and he served as President of the University Senate.

To pioneer a practical theology of maturing faith and moral character for our time, Jim Fowler listened to hundreds of life stories to animate the developmental psychologies of Piaget and Kohlberg, refocused by dynamics of faith as “a way of moving into and giving form and coherence to life” within an ultimate environment embodied in cultural traditions and social institutions.  Fowler framed this big picture of doing faith from the work of Richard Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and Wilfred Cantwell Smith with a feel for the interplay of Aristotelian practical virtues and the biblical arc of history unfolding in Erik Erikson’s life cycle and Robert Bellah’s religious evolution as the very “praxis of God.”

Translated and taught around the world, Jim Fowler’s Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Development and the Quest for Meaning has now gone through more than 40 printings. He authored or edited ten other books and more than sixty articles, creating waves of critical discussion in international seminars and edited volumes, conferences and classrooms, reaching across Europe and Asia as well as the American academy. The American Psychiatric Association recognized Jim Fowler’s “enduring contributions to the dialogue between religion and psychiatry” with the Oskar Pfister Award. The American Psychological Association honored him “for contributions that advance the psychology of religion” with the William James Award.

In fact, notes Brooks Holifield, Charles Howard Candler Professor of American Church History, Emeritus, Jim Fowler “stood in the tradition of William James, both in his intellectual curiosity and in his capacity to draw particulars into a larger image that enabled us to see things that we would not otherwise have seen.” Jim also enabled us to appreciate the virtues that underlie academic accomplishments, including the perseverance that stood behind his publications, and the sense of calling and responsibility that inspired his service to Candler and Emory, his care for his colleagues, and his concern for his students. “Radiant mind, soft-spoken heart, a soul rooted in the Mystery, and a laugh that sounded like Santa’s laugh to me,” writes one of Jim’s students, Tom Gildemeister. “If I never knew him, I would still be beholden. But I did, and my life is all the better for it.”

Jim taught his colleagues, too, in exemplary ways. “I think first of Jim’s simple but very real spirit of kindness that he brought to every relation-ship and situation,” recalls Rod Hunter, professor emeritus of pastoral theology. “Jim was deeply gracious with everyone, and grateful for every person and every situation that came his way. Jim was in this sense and in many other senses my teacher. I learned a lot from the sheer kindness and optimism of his nature as well as from his astute insight into persons and situations, and his wisdom in helping to guide our common life and work.”

“Jim was a deep soul who combined intellectual curiosity and wisdom about human beings with a great love for the church,” reflects Don Saliers, William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship, Emeritus. “He knew the meaning of friendship. He had a love of music, expressed in his delight in singing in the famous Candler Faculty Quartet. He loved his family without reservation.”

We hold Lurline and all of Jim’s family and friends in our thoughts and prayers. We carry on Jim’s work and spirit in Candler’s mission and communion.

Related Stories:

Emory Center for Ethics: "Tribute to Dr. James W. Fowler"

Emory News Center: "Memorial planned for James Fowler, theologian and former Center for Ethics director"

United Methodist News Service: "Scholar left mark with 'Stages of Faith'"

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "James W. Fowler, 75: Theologian, author 'embodied the faith he studied'"