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Christopher Dawson

Christopher Henry Dawson FBA (12 October 1889, Hay Castle – 25 May 1970, Budleigh Salterton) was a British independent scholar, who wrote many books on cultural history and Christendom. Christopher H. Dawson has been called "the greatest English-speaking Catholic historian of the twentieth century".[1] The 1988–1989 academic year at the College of Europe was named in his honour.


  • Life 1
  • Writing 2
  • Career 3
  • Influence 4
  • Comparable historians 5
  • Works 6
  • Notes 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


The only son of Lt-Colonel H.P. Dawson and Mary Louisa, eldest daughter of Archdeacon Bevan, Hay Castle, Dawson was brought up at Hartlington Hall, Yorkshire. He was educated at Winchester College and Trinity College, Oxford. He obtained 2nd class honours in Modern History at Oxford in 1911.[2] After his degree he studied economics. He also read the work of the German theologian Ernst Troeltsch. His background was Anglo-Catholic but he became a Roman Catholic convert in 1914. In 1916 Dawson married Valery Mills, youngest daughter of Walter Mills. They had two daughters and one son.


He began publishing articles in The Sociological Review, in 1920. His starting point was close to that of Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee, others who were also interested in grand narratives conducted at the level of a civilisation. His first book, The Age of the Gods (1928), was apparently intended as the first of a set of five tracing European civilisation down to the twentieth century; but this schematic plan was not followed to a conclusion.

His general point of view is as a proponent of an 'Old West' theory, the later term of David Gress, who cites Dawson in his From Plato to Nato (1998). That is, Dawson rejected the blanket assumption that the Middle Ages in Europe failed to contribute any essential characteristics. He argued that the medieval Catholic Church was an essential factor in the rise of European civilisation, and wrote extensively in support of that thesis.


Dawson was considered a leading Catholic historian. He was a Lecturer in the History of Culture, University College, Exeter (1930–6), Forwood Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion, University of Liverpool (1934), Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (1947 and 1948), and Professor of Roman Catholic Studies, Harvard University (1958–62). He was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1943.[3]

From 1940 for a period he was editor of the Dublin Review. He was Chauncey Stillman Chair of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University from 1958–1962.


His writings in the 1920s and 1930s made him a significant figure of the time, and an influence in particular on T. S. Eliot, who wrote of his importance. He was on the fringe of 'The Moot', a discussion group involving Eliot, John Baillie, Karl Mannheim, Walter Moberly, Michael Polanyi, Marjorie Reeves, Bernard Lonergan and Alec Vidler;[4] and also the Sword of the Spirit ecumenical group. According to Bradely Birzer, Dawson also influenced the theological underpinnings of J. R. R. Tolkien's writings.[5] Russell Kirk was another who greatly admired Dawson, although the two men never met. The topical approach outlined by Dawson for the study of Christian culture forms the core of the Catholic Studies program at Aquinas College. His work was influential in the founding of Campion College in NSW, Australia, and in the formation in 2012 of The Christopher Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture Inc. in Perth, Western Australia.

Comparable historians

As a revivalist of the Christian historian, Christopher Dawson has been compared with Kenneth Scott Latourette and Herbert Butterfield.[6] Comparisons have also been made between the work of Dawson and German sociologist and historian Max Weber. Both employ a metahistorical approach to their subjects, and their subjects themselves bear similarities; namely, the influence of religion on aspects of western culture.[7]



Selected articles

  • "The Catholic Tradition and the Modern State," The Catholic Review, January/March 1915.
  • "The Significance of Bolshevism," The American Review, April 1933.
  • "The Claims of Politics," Scrutiny, September 1939.
  • "Catholicism and the Bourgeois Mind," Crisis Magazine, 27 December 2011.[35]


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  2. ^ Oxford University Calendar 1913, p. 192.
  3. ^ Who Was Who, 1961–70, London : A. & C. Black, 1972, p.287.
  4. ^ Reeves, Marjorie (editor). Christian Thinking and Social Order: Conviction Politics from the 1930s to the Present Day, p. 25, Cassell, 1999.
  5. ^ Birzer, Bradley J.Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, p. 136, ISI Books, 2003.
  6. ^ Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975, p.100.
  7. ^ Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the "Spirit" of Capitalism, and Other Writings. Penguin Books, 2002, p. xx.
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  11. ^ Hittinger, Russell. "The Failure of Liberal Humanism," Modern Age, June 1989.
  12. ^ New York: Sheed & Ward, 1952
  13. ^ Meridian Books, 1956
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  26. ^ Royal, Robert. "Dawson's History: Resurrecting the Work of Christopher Dawson," The Weekly Standard, Vol. VIII, N°. 26, 17 March 2003.
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  35. ^ Stork, Thomas. "Catholics and the Bourgeois Mind," The Distributist Review, 31 December 2012.

Further reading

  • Birzer, Brad. Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson, Christendom Press, 2007.
  • Birzer, Brad. "Christopher Dawson on Liberalism," Part II, Part III, The Imaginative Conservative, June 2012.
  • Birzer, Brad. "The Liberal Arts: Dawson’s Prerequisite for the Reconstruction of Christendom," Crisis Magazine, 11 October 2012.
  • Bliese, John R. E. "Christopher Dawson," Modern Age, Summer 1979.
  • Caldecott, Stratford and Morril, John. Eternity in Time: Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Idea of History, T. & T. Clark, 1997.
  • Fitzgibbon, George F. "The Cyclical Theory of Christopher Dawson," The American Catholic Sociological Review, Vol. 2, No. 1, Mar. 1941.
  • Hart, Jeffrey. "Christopher Dawson and the History We Are Not Told," Modern Age, September 1997.
  • Hittinger, Russell. "Christopher Dawson on Technology and the Demise of Liberalism," CERC, 1993.
  • Kirk, Russell. "The High Achievement of Christopher Dawson," The University Bookman, Volume 47, Number 1, Winter 2010.
  • Marshall, Caroline T. "Modern Pioneers: Christopher Dawson, Champion of Christian Culture," Christianity Today, 10 January 2001.
  • Olsen, Glenn W. "Why We Need Christopher Dawson," Communio, Vol. 35, Spring 2008.
  • Olsen, Glenn W. "Christopher Dawson and the Renewal of Catholic Education," Logos, Volume 13, Number 3, Summer 2010.
  • Parkes, H. B. "Christopher Dawson," Scrutiny, March 1937.
  • Quinn, Dermot. "Christopher Dawson: Historian and Prophet of Our Time," Humanitas, [n.d].
  • Quinn, Dermot. "Dawson’s Creed," The American Conservative, 1 February 2010.
  • Russello, Gerald J. "Christopher Dawson's 'America and the Secularization of Modern Culture.'" Logos, Vol. 3, 2000.
  • Russello, Gerald J. "Christopher Dawson: Christ in History," Crisis Magazine, 27 December 2011.
  • Schwartz, Adam. "Confronting the "Totalitarian Antichrist": Christopher Dawson and Totalitarianism," The Catholic Historical Review, Volume 89, Number 3, July 2003.
  • Scott, Christina. A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson, 1889-1970, Sheed & Ward, 1984.[1]
  • Ward, Leo R. "Dawson on Education in Christian Culture," Modern Age, Fall 1973.

External links

  • Catholic Education Resource Center: Christopher Dawson.
  • The Christopher Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture Inc.
  • The Christopher Dawson Collection
  • Full Dawson Bibliography at the Wayback Machine (archived 9 March 2006)
  • Rediscovering Christopher Dawson: An Interview with Dr. Bradley J. Birzer
  • The Achievement of Christopher Dawson
  • Catholic Authors: Christopher Dawson
  • Christopher Dawson: The Twofold Nature of Christian History
  • Gleaves Whitney on Christopher Dawson on YouTube
  • Lectures on Christopher Dawson
  • Launch Christopher Dawson Centre, Hobart, Tasmania
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