Petersen, Brent Russell (2012-05). Application of Faith Development Theory for Understanding Students' Transformational Learning as a Result of Bonfire at Texas A&M University. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Considerable attention by scholars for the last two decades has focused on issues of spirituality and higher education. Literature in the field of college student affairs suggest that, in order promote the development of the whole student, practitioners in the field should consider adopting theories of faith and spiritual development. This study considered the application of faith development theory, as developed by James W. Fowler, for contextualizing students' response to the 1999 Bonfire tragedy at Texas A&M University. The primary intent of this study was to (1) understand how a student's level of faith development relates to the transformational learning resulting from the Bonfire tragedy, (2) whether such a tragedy was a trigger for transformational learning, and (3) how student affairs professionals can utilize faith development theory for understanding students' narrative account of the tragedy and their commitment to the university. This study utilized a comparative case study approach. Nine respondents were recruited and participated in a semi-structured and the classic Faith Development interviews. The accounts provided by three respondents were selected for in-depth analysis. The investigative tools used for this analysis were hermeneutical and included constant comparative methodology and narrative analysis. Results from the study indicate that transformation of meaning schemes and meaning perspectives are key components of young-adult faith development. Evidence indicates that Bonfire was a student activity that was unique to Texas A&M University and had the potential to become a center of value and power for many students. Findings suggest that faith development theory can be an effective tool for exploring the structure of students' faith relationships and their commitment thereto. Based on an analysis of the narrative accounts, the Bonfire tragedy was a source of cognitive dissonance but not necessarily a disorienting dilemma. For some students the 1999 tragedy was part of a longer cumulative process that advanced the faith development process. Implications from the research findings and recommendations for future research are explored at length.

publication date

  • May 2012