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dawsonBefore all the noise, bizarre theories, revisionists approaches, and misinterpretations of Western Civilization there was a brilliant and dedicated scholar who carefully studied primary documents and a range of cultural and social artifacts. His research and passion yielded much fruit, and in his day, Christopher Dawson was recognized as a world class cultural historian.

Then enter full-blown secularized consciousness, and Dawson’s approach and findings fell to the wayside. Among his many insights, Dawson noticed an inextricable bond between religion and culture. He wrote often, and masterfully, about this bond. The encouraging news is that many of his works have come back into print. Many of these works have returned due to the work of Catholic University Press of America. I am looking forward to the re-release of Dawson’s The Age of the Gods: A Study of the Origins of Culture in Prehistoric Europe and the Ancient East. I will read it carefully and blog on it by summer’s end.

I am so indebted to Dawson on so many levels, and I can honestly say that apart from the primary sources, he has shaped the way I think about history and the way the cultural historian should go about the task of thinking historically. It still surprises my students when I divide Western Civilization in the broadest categories of “Pre-Christian; Christian: Post-Christian.” They are shocked when I begin with Ancient Israel, and dumb-founded when the so-called Dark Ages are lifted up as being the Age of Faith and extraordinary cultural good. Often I hear them say, we have never heard before that the “Age of Enlightenment” was an age of barbaric and brutal blood-shed in the name of “reason” and “progress.”

If you desire to understand Western Civilization as it was taught before all the modern academic distortions, get a set of The Great Books, read the historical volumes, and make your way through the works of Christopher Dawson. It will be well worth the time and an education you cannot purchase for big bucks at the best universities.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreThis essay was originally published on Musings of a Christian Humanist and appears here with Dr. Woods’ gracious permission.

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2 replies to this post
  1. I think christian historians would do us ll a great favor and give up the "western civilization" periodization and use exactly the categories you propose. The Light came 2000 years ago. That is the pivotal event. The sons of Adam are being drawn back to the light and they are coming as NATIONS. It is the history of the Church amidst the nations that we want to tell. Dawson understood the communal nature of the Christian gospel and we must understand that in Divine Providence men are drawn into covenants of land, law and leaders which will culminate in the Second Coming. We have to tell this story with a lot more players than the old west(think China, India the nations of Islam, the Catholic nations of South America and the catholic tribes of Africa. Dawson said that the meeting place of Catholic Spain and Protestant England would be the American continent and isn't that the truth. The west as a cultural idea in our Universities has been an intellectual desacralization project treating a few books of the Bible as interesting literature and overplaying Greece philosophy while ignoring the most important religious tie of Greece to Russia as fellow orthodox. The old west will rise again when God is rediscovered and their resurrection will be as nations reasserting their communal identities. What a great age we live in!

  2. With respect Dr. Woods, you can purchase such an education at the Franciscan University of Steubenville through their Humanities and Catholic Culture Program. The whole of the four year experience is guided by Dawson's historical vision.

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