Wheaton graduate student researches popular personality test

02.07.19

By Melissa Schill

Graduate student and Fischer Hall Graduate Resident Advisor Peter Yeung is conducting research on the relationship between the Enneagram and faith for his final research project in the Christian Formation and Ministry program.

Yeung described the Enneagram as “a personality typology that has a lot more depth than what you would get from many other personality tests.”

The Enneagram is composed of nine types, each representing a different pattern of thinking, feeling and acting. Each person falls under one of the types. Each type has “levels of development” which point out common healthy and unhealthy tendencies. Each person fluctuates through the levels of development on an hour-to-hour basis.

Yeung first learned about the Enneagram in his senior year of college. Now in his last semester of graduate school, Yeung did not originally intend to write his thesis on the Enneagram. However, because the Enneagram has had such an impact on his life, Yeung decided to dedicate his thesis to research on the connection between the Enneagram and faith.    

“There were so many doors because in reality there’s not a lot of research on the Enneagram,” Yeung said. “I really wanted to see if people are writing and speaking about the Enneagram as something that has shaped their faith.”

The majority of Yeung’s research consists of reading books and articles. Most of the books “are mainly anecdotal, but that’s the bulk of what we know on the Enneagram,” Yeung said.  

Part of Yeung’s research also included a survey recently sent out to all Wheaton College students. Yeung’s faculty advisor, Dr. Laura Barwegen, associate professor and department chair of Christian formation and ministry, has expertise in quantitative methodology and is aiding Yeung in both formulating and analyzing the survey.

The survey asked participants to rank how much the Enneagram had contributed to each statement. The statements covered topics relating to faith — “accept both the divinity and humanity of Jesus” — and application of faith — “devote time and energy to acts of social service.”

Though Yeung has not done in-depth analysis of the results yet, what he has seen so far suggests that drawing a correlation between faith and the Enneagram will derive ambiguous conclusions because each individual’s faith walk and knowledge of the Enneagram is different.

Yeung has seen spiritual growth in his own life since learning about the Enneagram and utilizing it in day-to-day life. As a type three, Yeung strives for achievement and success. “How I have seen that in my spiritual life is pretty straightforward,” Yeung said. “It’s always been the pursuit of achievement or ‘what can I do for God?’ instead of loving and pursuing him. The Enneagram equipped me with the language to see that for myself and name that and tangibly think about how I can change that.”

Freshman Erika Filer was introduced to the Enneagram concept through singer/songwriter/musician Sleeping At Last, who is in the final stages of releasing a series of nine songs, each one depicting its related type. As a One, Filer strives for integrity and perfection. Like Yeung, she has also seen spiritual growth as a result of recognizing these inner strivings. “For me personally, I’ve always struggled with grace and feeling like I need to live up to my faith. Before I knew about the Enneagram, I knew I was saved, I knew God would love me no matter what, but I still had this subconscious striving and that hurt my relationship with God and caused me a lot of anxiety,” Filer said. “Something that is helpful to me is just being reminded that God’s grace is sufficient no matter what point I’m at.”

This focus on growth, both spiritual and otherwise, is what makes the Enneagram “profound” according to Yeung. “The Enneagram’s focus is not about you knowing your personality but about you growing and finding development within your personality.”

The Enneagram today is present among both Christian and secular communities. Instagram has become a popular platform for the Enneagram; various accounts post everything from informational tidbits about the Enneagram to memes caricaturing the types.

Though the bite-sized amounts of information offered on forums such as Instagram make the Enneagram more easily accessible, Yeung warned that “the flaw [he] see[s] is less with the Enneagram, but more with how we use it. The flaw is in how we are being educated on it. It demands depth of knowledge. It demands intention if you really want to use it.”

Because the Enneagram demands in-depth knowledge, “most people don’t know it to that extent and probably have not seen it impact their faith extremely.” This will impact the way Yeung analyzes his survey results.

Yeung suggests reading “The Road Back to You” by Ian Morgan Cron or “The Sacred Enneagram” by Christopher L. Heuertz as starting points. The Enneagram Institute is an online resource that also provides basic information on the Enneagram.

“When we look at the Enneagram and research it more, it puts us on this journey of searching,” Yeung said. “There is a connection between knowing ourselves more and knowing God more. As we know ourselves more, hopefully it will draw us to know more about God. As we know God more, we know more about ourselves.”