Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson

Christopher Henry Dawson (1889 – 1970) 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]



Brought up at Hartlington Hall, in Yorkshire, Dawson was educated at Winchester College and Trinity College, Oxford. His background was Anglo-Catholic, but he became a Roman Catholic convert in 1914. As a post-graduate student, he studied economics, and then at Oxford history and sociology. He also read in the work of the German theologian Ernst Troeltsch. In 1916, Dawson married Valery Mills.


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 civilization. His first book, The Age of the Gods (1928), was apparently intended as the first of a set of five tracing European civilization 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 a '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 civilization, and wrote extensively in support of that thesis.

He received also a measure of academic recognition, and was considered a leading Catholic historian. 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;[2] 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.[3] Russell Kirk was another who greatly admired Dawson, although the two men never met.

Comparable historians

As a revivalist of the Christian historian, Christopher Dawson has been compared with Kenneth Scott Latourette and Herbert Butterfield. [4] 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.[5]



  1. ^ The Vision of Christopher Dawson, Araceli Duque,
  2. ^ Marjorie Reeves (editor), Christian Thinking and Social Order: Conviction Politics from the 1930s to the Present Day (1999), p, 25.
  3. ^ Bradely J. Birzer Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, p. 136.
  4. ^ W. A. Speck, "Herbert Butterfield: The Legacy of a Christian Historian" in A Christian View of History?, George Marsden, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975 P.100
  5. ^ Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the "Spirit" of Capitalism, and Other Writings. Penguin Books, 2002 P.xx

External links

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