Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson.jpg
Born(1889-10-12)12 October 1889
Died25 May 1970(1970-05-25) (aged 80)

Christopher Henry Dawson FBA (12 October 1889 – 25 May 1970) 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 Dawson's honour.


Dawson was the only son of Lt. Colonel H.P. Dawson and Mary Louisa, eldest daughter of Archdeacon Bevan, Hay Castle.[2] He was brought up at Hartlington Hall, Yorkshire.

Dawson was educated at Winchester College and Trinity College, Oxford, where he obtained 2nd class honours in Modern History in 1911.[3] After his degree he studied economics. He also read the work of the German theologian Ernst Troeltsch.

Dawson's background was Anglo-Catholic, but he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1909.[4]

In 1916, Dawson married Valery Mills, daughter of the architect Walter Edward Mills. They had two daughters and one son.


As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy.

— C.H. Dawson

Dawson 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. Dawson's 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. However, he did not follow this plan to a conclusion.

Dawson was a proponent of an 'Old West' theory, the later term of David Gress, who cites Dawson in his From Plato to Nato (1998). 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), the Forwood Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion, University of Liverpool (1934), the Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (1947 and 1948), and the Chauncey Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University (1958–62). Dawson was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1943.[5]

From 1940 for a period he was editor of the Dublin Review.


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. Dawson was on the fringe of 'The Moot', a literary discussion group,[6] and also part of the Sword of the Spirit ecumenical group. According to Bradley Birzer, Dawson also influenced the theological underpinnings of J. R. R. Tolkien's writings.[7]

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 and the formation in 2012 of The Christopher Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture Inc. in Perth, Western Australia.

Dawson's vision also outlines the Humanities and Catholic Culture program at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Comparable historians

As a revivalist of the Christian historian, Christopher Dawson has been compared with Kenneth Scott Latourette and Herbert Butterfield.[8] Comparisons have also been made between the work of Dawson and 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.[9]




  1. ^ a b "Full text of "Christianity and Culture: Selections from the Writings of Christopher Dawson (updated 10/08, PDF)"". Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  2. ^ Marshall, Caroline T. "Modern Pioneers: Christopher Dawson". Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  3. ^ Oxford University Calendar 1913, p. 192.
  4. ^ "Modern Pioneers: Christopher Dawson | Christian History Magazine". Christian History Institute. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  5. ^ Who Was Who, 1961–70, London : A. & C. Black, 1972, p.287.
  6. ^ Reeves, Marjorie (editor). Christian Thinking and Social Order: Conviction Politics from the 1930s to the Present Day, p. 25, Cassell, 1999.
  7. ^ Birzer, Bradley J. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, p. 136, ISI Books, 2003.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the "Spirit" of Capitalism, and Other Writings. Penguin Books, 2002, p. xx.
  10. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 2012). The Age of the Gods. Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 9780813219776.
  11. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 2001). Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813210155.
  12. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1931). Christianity and the new age. Sheed & Ward.
  13. ^ Hittinger, Russell. "The Failure of Liberal Humanism," Modern Age, June 1989.
  14. ^ see online
  15. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1952). The making of Europe;an introduction to the history of European unity. New York. hdl:2027/mdp.39015000353949.
  16. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1934). The spirit of the Oxford movement (1st ed.). Sheed & Ward.
  17. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1934). The Spirit of the Oxford Movement. AMS Press. ISBN 9780404140250.
  18. ^ Dawson, Christopher; Royal, Robert (1 January 2009). Enquiries Into Religion and Culture (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813215433.
  19. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1935). Medieval Religion and Other Essays. Sheed & Ward.
  20. ^ "Religion and the Modern State by Christopher Dawson, 1935". Archived from the original on 7 April 2016.
  21. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1941). Beyond Politics. Sheed & Ward.
  22. ^ Dawson, Christopher (28 November 2011). The Judgment of the Nations. CUA Press. ISBN 9780813218809.
  23. ^ Dawson, Christopher (23 December 2008). Understanding Europe (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813215440.
  24. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1954). Medieval Essays (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813210179.
  25. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1955). The Mongol Mission: Narratives and Letters of the Franciscan Missionaries in Mongolia and China in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. AMS Press. ISBN 9780404170080.
  26. ^ "The Dynamics Of World History". Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  27. ^ Royal, Robert. "Dawson's History: Resurrecting the Work of Christopher Dawson," Archived 27 May 2014 at the Wayback Machine The Weekly Standard, Vol. VIII, N°. 26, 17 March 2003.
  28. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1959). The movement of world revolution. Sheed & Ward.
  29. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1960). The Historic Reality of Christian Culture: A Way to the Renewal of Human Life. Harper.
  30. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 2010). The Crisis of Western Education (The Works of Christopher Dawson). CUA Press. ISBN 9780813216836.
  31. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1967). The Dividing of Christendom. Image Books.
  32. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 2008). The Formation of Christendom. Ignatius Press. ISBN 9781586172398.
  33. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1972). The gods of revolution. Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 9780283978203.
  34. ^ Dawson, Christopher (1 January 1975). Religion and World History: A Selection from the Works of Christopher Dawson. Image Books. ISBN 9780385095518.
  35. ^ Stork, Thomas. "Catholics and the Bourgeois Mind," Archived 29 August 2015 at the Wayback Machine The Distributist Review, 31 December 2012.

Further reading