by Robert Woods
Before 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.
Robert M. Woods is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and Director of the Great Books Honors College at Faulkner University. This essay was originally published on Musings of a Christian Humanist and appears here with Dr. Woods’ gracious permission.