Rohr on 9 stages of consciousness

I have heard Father Richard Rohr presenting more than one framework for development (that includes the work of Fowler and Plotkin), but this is the one he presented on 12th June 2010 in Cape Town.

There is much to say in respect to this teaching, and I hope people will comment. For me this type of wisdom perspective is a way forward for those called in to a sense of emergence, who might be growing wary of the word’s overuse.

Here are a few points:

  • He is at pains to present this not as a “race to finish”. At each stage the call is complete it in its own time, with maximum honesty. This removes the inevitable moralising about who is where.
  • I could not get full clarity on stages 6 and 7, so I have grouped them together.
  • Father Richard gives us a mantra, and this was “transcend – include, transcend – include”. This means we fully live a stage, and transcend it when done, rather than rejecting it. The corollary is if you can not include you have not transcended. (As we can see it a feature of Stage 4 to break this very rule). This bears an interesting similarity to Brian McLaren’s metaphor of the tree in “A Generous Orthodoxy”, which builds on the previous seasons growth.
  • The context of these spiral dynamics of emergence is that most of the world (and that includes the church) is in a combination of stages 3 and 4, and is somewhat stuck there.

And now here are Richard Rohr’s stages of Consciousness:

1 – Infant consciousness
Undifferentiated from mother, this is our first experience of the world. It is complete oneness, and the bliss of ignorance. In personal terms includes ages up to 2 years old.

2 – Magical consciousness
Between 2 and 7, as the child realises that it is an individual, it experiences the world directly, unambiguously, and magically. This consciousness, (parts of which Rohr suggests can be seen in the likes of The Amish and everyone’s favourite saint Mother Theresa), is only sustainable by separating from reality (I may be misunderstanding these examples). Its mantra might be “The way I see it is the way it is.” Its negatives include narcissism, pietism, and sentimentality.

3  – Mythic / Tribal consciousness
Innately dualistic, this stage sees deep group conformity regardless of what might be true. Dualisms include us/them and win/lose, and karma – you get what you deserve – totally dominates grace. The bible becomes a totem and the only “wisdom” is the conventional.

4 – Rational consciousness
Here myth becomes the victim of their rational prowess. What they don’t understand, they call wrong. Intolerant of previous levels, this spiritual adolescence results in doctrines like biblical inerrancy and papal infallibility. Because of their inflexible emphasis on belief and not faith, Rohr calls those at rational consciousness “practical atheists”. Most conservatives find themselves at either stage 3 or 4.

5 – Vision Logic
After Ken Wilbur, this is a pluralistic age of “universal scepticism”; everything is true, everyone is right, and we refuse to place our bets. Most liberals are stuck here.

6/7 – Subtle/Psychic consciousness
The separate self starts to fall away; this may or will involve the dark night of the soul. It is about emptying, of which Meister Eckhart said “The spiritual journey is about subtraction, not addition”.

8 – Christ Consciousness
The non-dual mind of Christ. “I and the Father are one.”

9 – “I am”
The fully integrated, divinised self. The “pure contemplative”. Holiness is “doing your thisness”.


  1. Matt Stone said

    Meh, just sounds like a rerun of Fowler

  2. Nic Paton said

    Hi Matt
    So does “Meh” = “Pah”?

  3. Nic Paton said

    Footnote to self: At this stage I’d name and number the stages of consciousness like this:
    1 – Infant
    2 – Magical
    3 – Tribal
    4 – Rational
    5 – Plural
    6 – Apophatic
    7 – Integrated

    • Mark said

      Hey Nic,

      Enjoyed the summary, i think the transcend include cycle is key. Each stage is not ‘wrong’ the problem comes when we get stuck…

      • Nic Paton said

        Hi Mark – very much so. But its not easy staying friends with the stage you are exiting. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Don Rogers said

    On your footnote……I think I lie somewhere between 5 & 6. This is most interesting. I missed an opportunity to hear Rohr a couple of years ago in Houston. I’m not so sure I would have understood anything he was saying at that time. If he stops by again, I shall go to hear him.

  5. Nic Paton said

    Don – Rohr is after all from Texas I think, though based now in Arizona.
    Y’know I’ve come across a few people of late who find them selves in Plurality. It’s almost always a response to the uniformity and intolerance of their church experience. I’m part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6, (for today at least).

    Hows the oil spill affecting you?

  6. Don Rogers said

    Nic- The spill is not affecting Texas as of yet (economically) as I’m sure it will soon. Our beaches are clear and I suspect (if what I’ve been hearing is true) they will be very, very busy this summer, especially Padre Island, which is at the southern-most tip of Texas, farthest away from the spill. The prevailing currents are taking the spill east.

  7. Jonathan - a different one :) said

    Or as Microsoft would have it:

    embrace and extend

  8. Do check out the book ‘Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning’ by James W Fowler. He did some work on thiws, years ago, and what he says about transitioning from stage to stage, and what the various stages say about churches is awesome.

  9. Jason Gosnell said

    vision logic is an important level because it is an abstract-intuitive level of vision. it is the beginning of spiritual intuition. this takes you further than the rational level perhaps. they say, beginning vision-logic starts at pluralistic, then reaches maturity at the integrative-holistic levels. that’s my memory for it anyway.

    each stage has something vital to offer!

    loving-kindness, jason

  10. Nic Paton said

    Thanks Jason for the comment and for “placing/incarnating” yourself in the scheme proposed. Its important we engage each stage fully.

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