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Christopher Dawson

From 1898
 to 1970

"Modern society is unintelligible unless it is studied as having deep roots in Christianity."

So penned Christopher Dawson, cultural historian and educational theorist. Born in Wales at the end of the nineteenth century, Dawson held distinguished chairs at University College, Exeter, University of Liverpool, and became the first Chauncey Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University, where he remained until 1962. He died in Devon, England in 1970.

Dawson began his brilliant career with a book entitled The Age of the Gods (1928). In it he maintained that the basis of every culture was formed by religion. This belief in religion's formative role in Europe's past and present occupied a pre-eminent place in Dawson's scholarly output, including his influential Gifford Lectures which were given in Edinburgh in 1947-48 and later published as Religion and the Rise of Western Culture.

For Dawson, Europe was a Christian creation. A self-proclaimed “meta-historian”, he tackled the big questions and drew sweeping conclusions. He advocated an ambitious program of studying the history and development of Christian culture, analogous to the old humanist study of classical culture. As Dawson noted, “The essential thing is not to cram students with a complete knowledge of the history of Christian culture, but to introduce them to the subject, so that they will at least realize the existence of the whole, before they are irretrievably committed to a specialized study of the part or of a particle of the part.”

“I believe that the study of Christian culture is the missing link which it is essential to supply if the tradition of Western education and Western culture is to survive, for it is only through this study that we can understand how Western culture came to exist and what are the essential values for which it stands.”