“Every culture is like a plant. It must have its roots in the earth, and for sunlight it needs to be open to the spiritual. At the present moment we are busy cutting its roots and shutting out all light from above.” Christopher Dawson

Introducing Christopher Dawson

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.

His Life and Career

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.

Dawson and Christianity

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.

“Dawson has succeeded in reminding us of the immense importance of religion in the history of civilization.” – The Journal of Modern History