Christopher Dawson

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

= influential 20th cy. Catholic historian


Contextual Quote


"Christopher Dawson was regarded in his lifetime as one of the great Catholic intellectuals of his age: a universal historian whose scope and insight matched that of Spengler, Jaspers, Weber and Toynbee. T.S. Eliot called him the most influential writer in England. He had done more than almost any other English-speaking scholar to rehabilitate the Middle Ages as a formative period for modernity, rather than as an interlude between Rome and Renaissance. Yet today Dawson is at best a B-lister, the sort of author who makes it onto “great books” courses in American liberal arts colleges with a Catholic bent, providing a bit of reserve ammunition for proponents of the “Chesterbelloc” view of the world. He has so far not profited much from the revival of interest in universal history which has favoured the re-reading of figures like Toynbee and Voegelin."

- Sebastian Milbank [1]


"Dawson moved mostly in a circle of Catholic intellectuals – his closest friend E.I. Watkin, his publishers Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, David Jones, Ronald Knox, Algar Thorold and Bernard Wall, amongst others. He was also on friendly terms with Arnold Toynbee and C.S. Lewis and was much admired by T.S. Eliot, who, towards the end of his life, called him the most influential writer in England."




"Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) was a historian of religion and culture whose main thesis was that religion is one of the great driving forces of history and a crucial factor in the rise and fall of civilizations. In support of this argument, he carried out a wide-ranging study of history from ancient civilizations to medieval Christendom and the modern world. Convinced of the potentially fatal results of secularism, he promoted the study of Christian culture as a key element in any meaningful study of Western civilization.

Living in a turbulent era of history that witnessed many changes, he remained throughout his life an acute observer of contemporary events, contributing articles to journals and writing books on socio-political questions, such as Religion and the Modern State and The Crisis of Western Education. Born in Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh Borders, he lived at different times of his life in Oxford, Yorkshire and Devon. In 1958 he travelled to America to take up the Chair of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University, where he remained until 1962, when ill-health forced him to return to England.

Though himself a committed Catholic, Dawson was an immensely learned and broadminded scholar whose aim was to reach as wide as possible an audience through his writings, in order to stimulate thought on issues that affect us all. His lucid analysis of the dynamic forces of world history, as well as his championing of the contributions of the Christian faith to the achievements of European culture, won him many admirers, including T. S. Eliot and Arnold Toynbee.

Christopher Dawson was the author of twenty-two books and numerous articles. Among his most well-known works are The Making of Europe, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, Dynamics of World History and Progress and Religion. A number of biographies have been written about him, including A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson by his daughter, the late Christina Scott."


2. His works:

"Coming from a family steeped in history, Christopher Dawson studied history at Oxford from 1908-1911, where his tutor, Ernest Barker, later described him as “a man and a scholar of the same sort of quality as Acton and von Hügel”.

Dawson’s inspiration to write history came to him as he was sitting on the steps of the Capitol in Rome, where he was filled with the desire to write a wide-ranging history of culture. This vision came to fruition with the publication of his first book, The Age of the Gods in 1928, which was the product of nearly 20 years of research. The work was well received and, had he continued along these lines, he would perhaps have become an academic historian of a more conventional type.

However, his meeting with the Catholic publisher Frank Sheed encouraged him to give a more contemporary slant to his works and reach out to a wider public. There followed Progress and Religion, The Making of Europe and twenty or so more over the course of his life, as well as many essays, articles and series of radio talks and lectures, including the Gifford Lectures of 1946-1947. These were subsequently published in two volumes, Religion and Culture and Religion and the Rise of Western Culture and have recently been made available online by the Templeton Foundation.

His works cover a wide area, from world religions to the historical study of Christianity and the clash between the religious and secular world views. Most of his works are now in print or are scheduled for re-publication in English, with versions in several foreign languages such as Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean.

All his works are distinguished by their erudition, their lucid and elegant style and their attempt to give the study of history the central place it deserves in human culture."


Bio Book

* Book: "A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson, 1889-1970. by Christina Scott. Transaction Pubn. , 1991

URL = [2]

"As a historian of ideas, Christopher Dawson was one of the most distinguished Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century. He was a scholar of immense erudition, a writer of great style and fluency, and the first Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic studies at Harvard. It is in the field of the history of ideas that he achieved his most lasting influence. This biography by Christina Scott, Dawson's daughter, is a sensitive portrait of a complex and fascinating scholar.

The author's first-hand knowledge and her access to unpublished family memoirs has enabled her to paint a convincing picture of the basic personal security provided by Dawson's private life, his friendships, and his deep Christian faith-a personal security all too often required as a bulwark against the vicissitudes and disappointments of his public life. Dawson's Catholicism proved a problem to advancement in his academic career; and when public recognition of his true stature finally came, in the form of the Stillman Chair, it came late in life and in a country other than his own.

Christina Scott shows that Dawson is best understood as he himself interpreted his historical subjects-in the context of "the spiritual world in which he lived, the ideas that moved him, and the faith that inspired his action." Dawson was not a historian of ideas for their own sake; he had a passionate belief in their liberating power. A Historian and His World will be of interest to intellectual historians, historians of religion, and students of modern Catholic thought. This is the first publication of the Dawson biography in the United States. It is graced by a postscript written by Christopher Dawson reflecting upon the meaning of his work."