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Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry [Paperback]

Christopher Dawson
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Book Description

June 27 2002 Historical Inquiry
In this volume Christopher Dawson outlines his main thesis for the history of culture, which was his life's work. Anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion and history form the backdrop for the key idea of his thought - namely, that religion is the soul of a culture and that a society or culture which has lost its spiritual roots is a dying culture. To Dawson, a return to the Christian culture that had formed Western civilization was the only remedy for a world adrift. Dawson was writing in a period between the two great wars of the 20th century, a time when some thought that the idea of progress had finally been discredited by the carnage and barbarism of World War I. This text was designed to challenge the doctrine of progress, the rather naive but persistent belief that "in every day and in every way the world grows better and better". Dawson argued that Western civilization was at a turning point and confronted with two real choices: reappropriate a vital Christian culture or move increasingly toward more dangerous and alienated expressions of consumerism and totalitarianism. In this volume, he contends that no culture could truly thrive if cut off from its religious roots.

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"Progress and Religion is undoubtedly a brilliant book. Its argument is closely reasoned, admirably presented, lucidly expressed. Its standpoint is original and suggestive, profound and illuminating. Without exaggeration, it may be regarded as one of the books of our generation." - The Manchester Guardian, 1929 "A book of vast learning...a theme which invites the consideration of a stately procession of the greatest names in the history of the world's thought." - The Scotsman, 1929

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EVERY PERIOD of civilization possesses certain characteristic ideas that are peculiarly its own. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Jan. 27 2002
Format:Paperback
Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) was one the premier Roman Catholic thinkers of this century. Dawson's central concern was the relationship between religion and culture. Dawson drew on an extensive knowledge of history, philosophy, sociology and theology to illuminate this connection from the beginnings of history to the modern age.
Although some of his books remain in print, Catholic University of America Press is printing new editions of his most important works. This edition of Progress & Religion contains a forward by Dawson's daughter Christina (1922-2001) and an introduction by the well-known sociologist Mary Douglas.
Progress & Religion, which came out in 1929, is perhaps Dawson's most important work. Dawson argues that at the center of any great civilization is its religion, and this religion animates and gives it a sense of purpose. This is particularly the case with Christianity. "[T]he victory of the Church in the 4th century was not, as so many modern critics would have us believe, the natural culmination of the religious evolution of the ancient world. It was, on the contrary, a violent interruption of that process which forced European civilization out of its own orbit . . . ." [p. 126.] The Western Church vivified society by breaking with oriental spiritualism and showing that "human intelligence . . . finds its natural activity in the sphere of the sensible and particular." [p. 137.]
It would make an interesting study to compare the work of Dawson with that of Robert Nisbet. Like Nisbet, Dawson was learned in the area of sociology and drew upon an extensive knowledge of sociologists such as Le Play, Comte and Durkheim. They both saw Rousseau as one the chief villains.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Jan. 27 2002
By Steve Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) was one the premier Roman Catholic thinkers of this century. Dawson's central concern was the relationship between religion and culture. Dawson drew on an extensive knowledge of history, philosophy, sociology and theology to illuminate this connection from the beginnings of history to the modern age.
Although some of his books remain in print, Catholic University of America Press is printing new editions of his most important works. This edition of Progress & Religion contains a forward by Dawson's daughter Christina (1922-2001) and an introduction by the well-known sociologist Mary Douglas.
Progress & Religion, which came out in 1929, is perhaps Dawson's most important work. Dawson argues that at the center of any great civilization is its religion, and this religion animates and gives it a sense of purpose. This is particularly the case with Christianity. "[T]he victory of the Church in the 4th century was not, as so many modern critics would have us believe, the natural culmination of the religious evolution of the ancient world. It was, on the contrary, a violent interruption of that process which forced European civilization out of its own orbit . . . ." [p. 126.] The Western Church vivified society by breaking with oriental spiritualism and showing that "human intelligence . . . finds its natural activity in the sphere of the sensible and particular." [p. 137.]
It would make an interesting study to compare the work of Dawson with that of Robert Nisbet. Like Nisbet, Dawson was learned in the area of sociology and drew upon an extensive knowledge of sociologists such as Le Play, Comte and Durkheim. They both saw Rousseau as one the chief villains. As Dawson said, Rousseau effected a "new Reformation" and was the ideological godfather of the French Revolution. They both wrote extensively on the idea of progress. However, whereas Nisbet was "pious skeptic" (according to Prof. Gottfried), Dawson was a believer and his work contains a greater sense of urgency. Indeed, some of his writings between the wars were quite prophetic.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece June 11 2005
By JG - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In his overarching masterpiece, Dawson proves himself once again one of the most brilliant scholars of the twentieth century. The profound relation between religion and culture, the essential and forming influence of Christianity on Western civilization, and the secular crisis of the modern age is demonstrated impecably by Dawson here. As one professor has said, one can measure one's liberal arts education by how much one understands of this book.
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