A Historian and His World
A Life of Christopher Dawson, 1889-1970
Works of Christopher Dawson
Imprint: Catholic University of America Press
The English historian of culture Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) was an independent scholar and the author of more than twenty books. He served as assistant lecturer in the History of Culture, University College, Exeter (1925), Forwood Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion, University of Liverpool (1934), Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (1947-1949), and as Professor of Catholic Studies at Harvard University (1958-1962). He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1943 and edited the Dublin Review during the Second World War. This biography by Christina Scott, Dawson’s daughter, is a sensitive portrait of a complex and fascinating scholar.
Unlike other English Christian converts of the twentieth century who excelled in literature, like G. K. Chesterton or C. S. Lewis, Dawson turned to the social sciences. He drew from the new idea of culture as a common way of life emerging from anthropology at the time of the Great War to shape a new approach to history. His study of the intimate relationship between religion and culture throughout world history shaped his trenchant criticisms of his own times. He wrote in 1955 that, "the first step in the transformation of culture is a change in the pattern of culture within the mind, for this is the seed out of which there spring new forms of life which ultimately change the social way of life and thus create a new culture." Dawson’s engagement with anthropology and the idea of culture marked an important moment of development in the Catholic intellectual tradition.
Christina Scott shows that Dawson is best understood as he himself interpreted his historical subjects—in the context of "the spiritual world in which he lived, the ideas that moved him, and the faith that inspired his action." Dawson was not a historian of ideas for their own sake; he had a passionate belief in their liberating power. A Historian and His World will be of interest to intellectual historians, historians of religion and culture, and students of modern Catholic thought. The Introduction is written by Dawson scholar Joseph T. Stuart and the book is graced by a postscript by Christopher Dawson reflecting upon the meaning of his work.