This paper is an interpretive analysis of the faith development of an adult using the developmental theories of Urie Bronfenbrenner, Carol Strauch, and Carl Jung. Each theory will be examined in general and then applied to the subject via his own comments and art. Citations (I-, A-) refer to the interviewer and subject (Adam) and correspond to questions and answers in the interview transcript.
Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917 – 2005) was a Russian-American psychologist. A co-founder of the US early education program Head Start, Bronfenbrenner was particularly interested in the impact of culture and environment on a child’s development. His Ecological Systems Theory depicts a child’s world in “layers,” or relatively concentric rings, around the child, signifying successive affective environments. These environments contain “structures” such as immediate and extended family, school, parents’ workplaces, cultural values, and world events which occur during the child’s lifetime. The closer the structure is to the child, the more direct its impact is on the child. So, structures in the closest environment, the microsystem, are typically family, school, and church and these have the most direct influence on the child. Successive outer layers include the mesosystem, which contains the points of contact between the structure of the microsystem; the exosystem, which contains structures such as extended family, parents’ workplace, neighborhood, and community; the macrosystem, which contains structures of the larger culture in which the child lives; and the chronosystem, which contains big-picture world events which occur during the child’s life. Structures in these outer layers typically tend to be less directly influential on the child but can have an impact none-the-less. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory is applicable to the subject Adam’s life. Adam’s upbringing, life and identity are greatly influenced by his environment and culture across many layers, so much so that the lines of demarcation between layers often blur.
Consider Adam’s microsystem. Adam was raised in a Jewish home and self-identifies as Jewish. Although his family of origin observed Jewish holidays they did not regularly attend services at a synagogue (A75-76), nor did they observe dietary laws (A101). Adam went to Jewish day school for all of his primary schooling; he credits his teachers as having taught him what it was to be Jewish (A83-84). His friend group was all Jewish (A19, A37, A64) until 8th grade, when he transferred to a non-Jewish private school. After this move his friend group was mixed. Therefore, for the first thirteen years of his life, Adam was virtually immersed in Jewish culture, if not in Jewish religious practices. This immersion provides the foundation for his claim on a Jewish identity. A later, college-era friend group, composed entirely of non-Jews – some were very devout Christians – was, Adam claims, directly influential on his decision to “own” his Jewish identity (A95-96) and begin observing some dietary laws (A99-102). His mesosystem, the points of interaction between his family, school, and religious life, reinforced this sense of identity, since at all these points of contact the people involved were more or less coming from the same place (A64, A84); Adam knew nothing else.
Moving outward to Adam’s exosystem, we might expect to see some degree of separation between Adam and his environment. However, instead we see more reinforcement of this sense of Jewish identity because of the circumstances of his father’s business. Adam’s father owned a kosher bagel bakery and restaurant which was a critical part of his family’s life – he refers to it as “ground zero for the family activities” (A13) and the center of life during his adolescence (A15). In addition to his parents, his grandparents and extended family worked there (A5-8) as did Adam himself (A4, A12). The bakery was an important place in the larger Jewish community, a “Jewish icon…in the city” of Atlanta (A74, A77, A79). Therefore the father’s workplace and the community were of considerable immediate importance to Adam. Even if his family was not particularly religious their context was completely culturally Jewish, which probably had a major impact on Adam sees himself now (A152). The borders between environments are not always clear or fixed.
We see evidence of the influence of the macrosystem on Adam in the way he expresses his ideas of God and spiritual matters. His concepts have been shaped by popular Western media (A169-170, A176-177, A182, A186) and Greek mythology (A163). Current relativistic notions about morality being based on feelings seem to dictate his ideas about behavior (A126).
Something curious becomes apparent when we look at Adam’s chronosystem, something which he does not directly address in the interview but which is found in his timeline chart, and which may have had a profound effect on his life and the way he sees himself. Adam talks about giving up eating pork:
Junior year – midway through my junior year of
college I woke up one morning and gave it all up.
I said, I just, I’m not going to eat that anymore (A101).
He also expresses strong sentiments for Israel and against Israel’s enemies (I/A113-119, 199). What Adam does not verbally share is that he spent time in Israel when he was 21, which was probably during his junior year of college – and which was at the beginning of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising in Jerusalem. It is unlikely that the trip made no impact upon him. Instead, it is reasonable to assume that the visit to Israel was extremely influential, perhaps even to the point of causing him to soon decide to give up eating pork and personally claim a Jewish identity. It is odd that Adam never mentions what surely was a pivotal experience in his life. Could it be that he is not aware of its impact upon him?
Carol Strauch is interested in the health and operations of the middle-aged brain. Although Adam is somewhat younger than the current social understanding of middle-age (between 45 – 60 years old), it was worth looking at Adam’s interview through the lens of her research, to see if anything in her theories applied to him. Strauch, an American medical reporter for the New York Times, looks at understanding wisdom, decision-making and problem-solving in older adults. In her book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain Strauch cites research by sociology professor Monica Ardelt, who has devised a scale for measuring functional wisdom in people. Ardelt identifies three dimensions in which one must perform well to be considered wise: the cognitive dimension, described as “’the desire to know the truth and be able to look at gray and not see everything in black and white,’ as well as the ability to ‘make important decisions despite life’s unpredictability’”; the reflective dimension, “the ability and willingness to look at different perspectives;” and the affective dimension, “the level of sympathy and compassion for others.” (45) Based on the statements made during his interview, Adam does not exhibit noticeable ability in any of these three dimensions. In fact, Adam talks about his lack of ability to make decisions (A132) and his deep hatred for Palestinians (A114-119). He expresses in negative terms only nominal compassion for those he believes are inadvertently caught up in the political conflict in Israel (A118). Therefore, based on Strauch’s ideas about wisdom, Adam shows no sign of having much. Again, his age could well be a factor. There is still time, and therefore hope, for him.
Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist whose ideas led to the development of Analytical Psychology. In Analytical Psychotherapy there is a deliberate effort to bring to the patient’s conscious awareness that which is unconscious in the human psyche, with the intent of integrating both into a whole, healthy self (individuation). In his work Jung identified psychological types or temperaments, and also named various aspects of the psyche, including one he called the Persona. According to Jung, “The persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is.”1 He also writes
It is, as its name implies, only a mask of the
collective psyche, a mask that feigns individuality,
making others and oneself believe that one is individual,
whereas one is simply acting a role through which
the collective psyche speaks.
When we analyse the persona we strip off the mask, and
discover that what seemed to be individual is at bottom
collective; in other words, that the persona was only
a mask of of the collective psyche. Fundamentally the
persona is nothing real: it is a compromise between
individual and society as to what a man should appear
to be. He takes a name, earns a title, exercises a function,
he is this or that. In a certain sense all this is real, yet in
relation to the essential individuality of the person
concerned it is only a secondary reality, a compromise
formation, in making which others often have a greater
share than he.2
We can easily see the persona in Adam, especially in regard to his identity as a Jew. We also see some level of awareness of the persona. When speaking of times of active religious orientation is his life, Adam remarks:
I think you can kind of go one of two ways. I think
in the Jewish community it’s pretty well known that…
there is a shrinking population…You can either become
less interested in being Jewish because you’re in a
minority…or, in my case I became more identifiable. Ah,
for me I think it became a little bit of a, um, token aspect? (A95)
He relates how none of his close friends at college were Jewish, but many were devout Christians (A95). He continues:
So, people knew me as the- as a Jewish kid, at school
amongst all these um Christians…I became the Jewish
kid in the circle of friends. So I became I think more
identifiable, I-I identified myself more Jewish than I had
when I was in high school, but then again I…wasn’t in
the majority in high school, I was certainly the minority
but I was in a very very large minority, so there was no
need to identify, but I owned it up – I owned up to the
Judaism and said, Okay I’m Jewish, and that’s how I
introduced myself, that’s what people knew. (A96)
His friends gave him “nicknames based on Jewish things” (A97), affirming and reinforcing the persona. Over time, Adam “personally identified more regularly as Jewish” because he “felt like [he] had to.” (A99) the identification included embracing some dietary restrictions. Adam explains:
I used to eat all the contraband, the Jewish contraband, non-kosher stuff…(A100) Midway through my junior year of college I woke up one morning and gave it all up…I was so unobservant that is just became – I don’t know if it was because my friends were…observant in their own faiths or if it was just because I felt like I was too far from center… from what I’d grown up learning. (A101) I, can’t, identify as a Jewish kid and not really do Jewish things. (A102) It’s just something that I do, makes me feel closer to, spiritually to what I associate with (A109). It’s what I do, to make myself feel better about being Jewish. (A111)
Adam is aware, at least on some level, that in his identity as a Jewish man he is acting a role, acting in a way he believes he should to fulfill his and others’ expectations of himself.
His self-identification with Judaism contains some mixed ideas of what it means to be Jewish. He considers himself a religious person (A143) but believes that being observant doesn’t make one more Jewish than being unobservant, and he does not attend services in the synagogue (A145). For Adam, being Jewish is “as much about heritage as it is about the actual practice” (A146) and Adam himself is “more concerned about preserving the heritage” (A147) than he is about living out a personal faith.
Jung believed that in order for a person to become whole, or individuate, the person must become aware of his/her unconscious self, which would “speak” in symbols and patterns through one’s dreams, art, religion, relationships, and life’s work. Recognizing and correctly interpreting the symbols is crucial to the psychological healing process. We can look at Adam’s drawing of himself before God for symbolic clues to what may be happening in his unconscious regarding faith matters. Adam believes his rendering of God will probably be “a cross of Moses and Zeus” (A161) and he recognizes as he draws that outside influences may have “shaped [his] vision of God” (A163): Greek mythology (A163, A183), television and Hollywood (A174, 176-177, A182, a185-187) and the Judeo-Christian culture (A176-177). Adam sees God as a specimen of human perfection with “washboard abs” (A163, A187), eyebrows and “really curly hair” (A169), sideburns (A170), massive arms (A172, A174) and fingers (A169, A179). He looks like a superhero (A169-170). God has legs, but they are hidden, suggesting God is in a fixed position above the clouds, unable to move (A170). Although this picture of God has detailed human anatomy, he does not initially have a mouth (A177); this appears significant when Adam later discusses his personal experience of the Holy (A196) – he has never heard God speak to him, has never experienced God’s presence. This image of God has one raised thumb, signifying a positive judgment of Adam (A179). The figure of Adam before God is interesting in that it is a stick figure, very primitive compared to the carefully considered humanoid figure of God. Adam says he drew himself that way because he did not know what one would “wear to go see God.” (A175) The stick figure is being blasted by a lightning bolt – punishment for ignoring dietary restrictions (A184), even though he’s received a “thumb’s up” in overall judgment? There seems to be a lot going on in Adam’s drawing, and he exhibits some recognition of that, even if he does not understand what it all might actually mean.
Throughout the interview Adam expresses some awareness of himself, but not to the point he could be considered a reflective person, much less possessing a certain amount of wisdom. This may well have to do with his age, on the very young end of middle age. Perhaps the interview itself was a provocative experience for him, prompting him to more consciously reflect on his living. It would be interesting to do follow-up interviews with him to see. It was interesting to interview him as he is.
- Jung, Carl. “Concerning Rebirth,” Collected Works 9i, par.221. Quoted in Daryl Sharp, “Jung Lexicon.” Jungian Resources, The Jung Page. http://cgjungpage.org (accessed 12/1/11).
- – . “The Persona as a Segment of the Collective Psyche,” Collected Works 7, pars 245f. Quoted in Daryl Sharp, “Jung Lexicon.” Jungian Resources, The Jung Page. http://cgjungpage.org (accessed 12/1/11).