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June 24, 2022
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v2.1 Reference

Christopher Dawson

A Cultural Mind in the Age of the Great War

The English historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) was the first Catholic Studies professor at Harvard University and has been described as one of the foremost Catholic thinkers of modern times. His focus on culture prefigured its importance in Catholicism since Vatican Council II and in the rise of mainstream cultural history in the late twentieth century. How did Dawson think about culture and why does it matter? Joseph T. Stuart argues that through Dawson's study of world cultures, he acquired a "cultural mind" by which he attempted to integrate knowledge according to four implicit rules: intellectual architecture, boundary thinking, intellectual asceticism, and intellectual bridges. Dawson's multilayered approach to culture, instantiating John Henry Newman's philosophical habit of mind, is key to his work and its relevance. By it, he responded to the cultural fragmentation he sensed after the Great War (1914-1918).

Stuart supports these claims by demonstrating how Dawson formed his cultural mind practicing an interdisciplinary science of culture involving anthropology, sociology, history, and comparative religion. Stuart shows how Dawson applied his cultural thinking to problems in politics and education.

This book establishes how Dawson's simple definition of culture as a "common way of life" reconciles intellectualist and behavioral approaches to culture. In addition, Dawson's cultural mind provides a synthesis helpful for recognizing the importance of Christian culture in education. It demonstrates principles which construct a more meaningful cultural history. Anyone interested in the idea of culture, the connection of religion to the social sciences, Catholic Studies, or Dawson studies will find this book an engaging and insightful intellectual history.

About the Author

Joseph T. Stuart serves as program chair of history, and as a Fellow of Catholic Studies at the University of Mary.


"Offers the best overview (as well as depth) of Dawson that I've seen. The writing, the research, and the analysis are top notch. I was especially taken with Stuart's command of the resources in and around Dawson. He has solved many puzzles, I think, regarding Dawson's life and intellectual biography."—Brad Birzer, author of Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson

"Joseph Stuart's thoroughly researched and brightly written intellectual biography combines the essential details of Dawson's life with analysis of the evolution of his thought. This is a wonderful and fresh account of an important British intellectual who is often pigeonholed as just another Catholic ideologue. He was much more than that, as Stuart shows so well."—Michael Burleigh, London School of Economics and Political Science and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

"The book is extremely wide ranging so that, as well as being a book about Dawson, it serves as a cultural history of the twentieth century. No one else has so far produced such a comprehensive study of my grandfather's work."—Julian Scott, Literary Executor of the Estate of Christopher Dawson

"This beautifully clear and deeply researched book explains Dawson in his intellectual context but also shows why his comprehensive notion of culture is still instructive today. It makes clear why Dawson should be considered one of the intellectual greats."—Stephen Turner, Distinguished University Professor in the History and Philosophy of Social Science at the University of South Florida

"A most welcome introduction to the work of one of the most impressive Catholic minds and spirits of the twentieth century. Like St. John Paul II, Christopher Dawson understood that culture is the great driver of history over the long haul and that a society can only be as great as its spiritual aspirations."—George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies Ethics and Public Policy Center

"Stuart's work interests me very much. He handles the subject well."—Don J. Briel (1947–2018), founder for the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota

"If I had to summarize the overall impression that Joseph Stuart's work has left on me, it would be this: I'm convinced—now more than ever—that Dawson is a scholar of enduring influence. There are serious implications here for the fields of sociology, psychology, and history so often absent from our sociological considerations in late modernity."—Garrett Potts, Religious Studies, University of South Florida

"Joseph Stuart has produced a timely and deeply researched study of the originality of Christopher Dawson's achievement. He shows that the basis of Dawson's 'cultural mind' was an extraordinary integration of thought that gave rise to a new synthesis of understanding based on blending of spiritual insights and the modern social sciences."—Karl Schmude, Co-founder of Campion College, Sydney, Australia

9780813234571 : christopher-dawson-stuart
Paperback / softback
448 Pages
$29.95 USD

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