Christopher Dawson

For people of the same name, see Chris Dawson (disambiguation).
Christopher Dawson
Born 12 October 1889
Hay Castle, Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales
Died 25 May 1970
Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England
Occupation Scholar
Religion Roman Catholicism

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. 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.


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 the architect Walter Edward 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 to trace European civilisation to the twentieth century, but the 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


  1. "Full text of "Christianity and Culture: Selections from the Writings of Christopher Dawson (updated 10/08, PDF)"". Retrieved 2016-03-25.
  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. Speck, W. A. "Herbert Butterfield: The Legacy of a Christian Historian." In A Christian View of History?, George Marsden, 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.
  8. Dawson, Christopher (2012-01-01). The Age of the Gods. Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 9780813219776.
  9. Dawson, Christopher (2001-01-01). Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813210155.
  10. Dawson, Christopher (1931-01-01). Christianity and the new age. Sheed & Ward.
  11. Hittinger, Russell. "The Failure of Liberal Humanism," Modern Age, June 1989.
  12. Dawson, Christopher (1952-01-01). The making of Europe;an introduction to the history of European unity,. New York,.
  13. "Making of Europe". Retrieved 2016-03-25.
  14. Dawson, Christopher (1932-01-01). The Making of Europe: An Introduction to the History of European Unity. CUA Press. ISBN 9780813210834.
  15. Dawson, Christopher (1934-01-01). The spirit of the Oxford movement (1st ed.). Sheed & Ward.
  16. Dawson, Christopher (1934-01-01). The Spirit of the Oxford Movement. AMS Press. ISBN 9780404140250.
  17. Dawson, Christopher; Royal, Robert (2009-01-01). Enquiries Into Religion and Culture (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813215433.
  18. Dawson, Christopher (1935-01-01). Medieval Religion and Other Essays. Sheed & Ward.
  19. "Religion and the Modern State by Christopher Dawson, 1935 - Online Research Library: Questia". Retrieved 2016-03-25.
  20. Dawson, Christopher (1941-01-01). Beyond Politics. Sheed & Ward.
  21. Dawson, Christopher (2011-11-28). The Judgment of the Nations. CUA Press. ISBN 9780813218809.
  22. Dawson, Christopher (2008-12-23). Understanding Europe (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813215440.
  23. Dawson, Christopher (1954-01-01). Medieval Essays (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813210179.
  24. Dawson, Christopher (1955-01-01). The Mongol Mission: Narratives and Letters of the Franciscan Missionaries in Mongolia and China in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. AMS Press. ISBN 9780404170080.
  25. "The Dynamics Of World History". Retrieved 2016-03-25.
  26. Royal, Robert. "Dawson's History: Resurrecting the Work of Christopher Dawson," The Weekly Standard, Vol. VIII, N°. 26, 17 March 2003.
  27. Dawson, Christopher (1959-01-01). The movement of world revolution. Sheed & Ward.
  28. Dawson, Christopher (1960-01-01). The Historic Reality of Christian Culture: A Way to the Renewal of Human Life. Harper.
  29. Dawson, Christopher (2010-01-01). The Crisis of Western Education (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813216836.
  30. Dawson, Christopher (1967-01-01). The Dividing of Christendom. Image Books.
  31. Dawson, Christopher (2008-01-01). The Formation of Christendom. Ignatius Press. ISBN 9781586172398.
  32. Dawson, Christopher (1972-01-01). The gods of revolution. Sidgwick & Jackson.
  33. Dawson, Christopher (1975-01-01). Religion and World History: A Selection from the Works of Christopher Dawson. Image Books. ISBN 9780385095518.
  34. "Full text of "Christianity and Culture: Selections from the Writings of Christopher Dawson (updated 10/08, PDF)"". Retrieved 2016-03-25.
  35. Stork, Thomas. "Catholics and the Bourgeois Mind," The Distributist Review, 31 December 2012.

Further reading

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