Christopher Henry Dawson FBA (12 October 1889, Hay Castle – 25 May 1970, Budleigh Salterton) was a British independent scholar, who wrote many books on cultural history and Christendom. Christopher H. Dawson has been called "the greatest English-speaking Catholic historian of the twentieth century". The 1988–1989 academic year at the College of Europe was named in his honour.
The only son of Lt-Colonel H.P. Dawson and Mary Louisa, eldest daughter of Archdeacon Bevan, Hay Castle, Dawson was brought up at Hartlington Hall, Yorkshire. He was educated at Winchester College and Trinity College, Oxford. He obtained 2nd class honours in Modern History at Oxford in 1911. After his degree he studied economics. He also read the work of the German theologian Ernst Troeltsch. His background was Anglo-Catholic but he became a Roman Catholic convert in 1914. In 1916, Dawson married Valery Mills, youngest daughter of Walter Mills. There were two daughters and one son.
He 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 civilization. His first book, The Age of the Gods (1928), was apparently intended as the first of a set of five tracing European civilization down to the twentieth century; but this schematic plan was not followed to a conclusion.
His general point of view is as a proponent of an 'Old West' theory, the later term of David Gress, who cites Dawson in his From Plato to Nato (1998). That is, 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 civilization, 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), Forwood Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion, University of Liverpool (1934), Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (1947 and 1948), and Professor of Roman Catholic Studies, Harvard University (1958–62). He was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1943.
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. He was on the fringe of 'The Moot', a discussion group involving Eliot, John Baillie, Karl Mannheim, Walter Moberly, Michael Polanyi, Marjorie Reeves, Bernard Lonergan and Alec Vidler; and also the Sword of the Spirit ecumenical group. According to Bradely Birzer, Dawson also influenced the theological underpinnings of J. R. R. Tolkien's writings. Russell Kirk was another who greatly admired Dawson, although the two men never met. The topical approach outlined by Dawson for the study of Christian culture forms the core of the Catholic Studies program at Aquinas College (Michigan).
As a revivalist of the Christian historian, Christopher Dawson has been compared with Kenneth Scott Latourette and Herbert Butterfield. Comparisons have also been made between the work of Dawson and German sociologist and historian 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.