The Christopher Dawson Collection was acquired by the Center for Catholic Studiesin 1998 through the generosity of Faye and Eugene Sitzmann. The collectionconsists of Dawson’s personal library of nearly 5,000 volumes and his manuscript collection and public correspondence. The collection recently was catalogued and now isavailable to scholars in the university’s Department of Special Collections. The acquisition of the Dawson Collection marks a significant milestone in the university’sdevelopment as a major center of Catholic thought and culture in the United States.
Dawson (1889-1970) delivered the Gifford Lectures in 1948 and 1949 and held the first Stillman Professorship in Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard. His complex work on the religious sources of culture challenged the secular assumptions of an age increasingly fascinated by theories of progress. As Adam Schwartz has pointed out in the most recent issue of Logos (winter 2001), Christopher Dawson regarded traditional Christianity as a source of cultural, as well as religious, unity. One of Dawson’s signature themes was his belief that religion is the basis of culture and consequently, that a society that loses its religion eventually also loses its culture. As Evelyn Waughargued in 1930, “It is no longer possible … to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it rests.” Dawson spelled out what many Christians considered the implications of this denial five years later. He maintained that “the new social ideals and secular forms themselves represent partialand one-sided survivals of the Christian social tradition,” as modern ideologies and institutions like democracy, nationalism, liberalism, socialism, humanitarianism and progress were all secular surrogates for Christianity that had been fostered by it and were rooted in it. But since secularism “did not create these moral ideals, so, too, it cannot preserve them. It lives on the spiritual capital that it has inherited from Christian civilization, and as this is exhausted, something else must come to take its place.”
Dawson’s daughter and biographer, Christina Scott, is co-editing a new edition ofher father’s works with Dr. Don Briel of the Center for Catholic Studies. The CatholicUniversity of America Press will publish Progress and Religion in September of thisyear, to be followed by Medieval Essays in the spring of 2002 and The Making of Europein the fall of the same year.
The Dawson Collection is available to the public. For further information, visit www.lib.stthomas.edu, or contact the university’s Department of Special Collections at (651) 962-5467.