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(ReCONSIDERATIONS Historical (and often neglected) texts in the Catholic intellectual tradition with contemporary comment and reflection Gerald J. Russello Introduction to Christopher Dawson, "America and the Secularization of Modern Culture" The University of St. Thomas in Houston published"America and the Secularization of Modern Culture" in i960, which Christopher Dawson had delivered as the University's annual Smith Lecturer earlier that year. Dawson had been in the United States since 19^8, when he assumed the inaugural Stillman Chair in Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University, a position he held until 1962. This extended stay in America—his first—Dawson spent teaching and lecturing at Harvard and elsewhere, and traveling widely with his wife Valerv. ' LOGOS 3:3 SUMMER 2ooo 12LOGOS Most importantly, Dawson was able during this time to develop and amplify the theories ofcultural development and spiritual influences that had occupied him for over three decades, but in a specifically American context. Dawson revisited topics that had special resonance forAmerica, and that continue to be central to public conversation : the proper definitions ofprogress and success; the role of technology in society; the relationship between economics and politics , and between politics and culture; and the necessity ofprotecting belief in an age dominated by an exaggerated devotion to efficiency and science. His comparison ofthe NewYork skyscrapers and the Egyptian tombs was a deliberate acknowledgment of the stakes involved. A culture's institutions reflect its values, and Dawson wanted to call his audience's attention to what America's institutions were saying about its values. /. Although since his death in 1970 Dawson's fortunes have been uneven, during his lifetime T. S. Eliot named him one of the most influential thinkers in Britain.2 Born in 1 8 89 to a Welsh mother and an English father, he spent much ofhis early childhood at Hay Castle in the Wye RiverValley. He later attributed his interest in cultural development and interaction to the confluence ofcultures he inherited from his parents. Dawson was educated at Winchester and later at Trinity College, Oxford, where his tutor was the great scholar of ancient political philosophy Sir Ernest Barker. As a young man, Dawson became a student of Gibbon and St. Augustine, and their works remain counterpoints to his own. During a trip to Rome, Dawson decided to write a history ofculture that would take into account the spiritual factors he thought missing from Gibbon, while still meeting the standard ofthe "perfect fusion" of history and literature that he had found in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTOPHER DAWSON In 1914, with his boyhood friend E. I. Watkin as sponsor, Dawson was received into the Cadiolic Church. As he recounts in a short essay, the reasons for his conversion were several, including the influence ofWatkin, and that ofhis future wifeValéry, who was born Catholic. In addition, the examples of the saints had made a deep impression upon him, and his study of human culture, even at that early age, had convinced him that any "theory of life" that failed to take the saints into account simply could not be fully accurate. After another decade and a half of intense personal study— Dawson was to have no regular academic post for much ofhis life— he published The Age of the Gods in 1928, which was hailed as a profound analysis of cultural development. Throughout his career, Dawson wrote both for intellectualjournals (contributing, for example , to Eliot's Criterion in the 1930s) as well as for more popular periodicals. Dawson's historical work drew on the then-emerging fields ofsociology and anthropology, and was in some respects quite "daring," even while his arguments raised serious questions concerning some aspects ofmodern life.4 "America and the Secularization of Modern Culture" represents in summary the results of Dawson's lifelong efforts of historical and cultural analyses. Dawson's earliest works, beginning with TheAge of the Gods, the magisterial Progress and Religion (1929), and The Making ofEurope (1932), center on one idea, a central insight that he would express often in his subsequent writings: culture arises from cult, from the patterns of organized worship, and the society that disregards its spiritual foundations will collapse, no...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 11-22
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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