London: Sheed & Ward, 1949. Second impression. Octavo, original black cloth, original dust jacket. Scuffing to the cloth boards, excellent dust jacket with only a trace of soiling to both panels and faint foxing to the spine panel. A near-fine copy. Item #488
Second impression of the 1947 Gifford Lectures, delivered at Edinburgh University by the influential historian Christopher Dawson at the height of his powers. Dawson was born in Wales and experienced a gradual spiritual awakening characteristic of the era, drifting from an early skepticism into Anglo-Catholicism at Trinity College before ultimately converting to Catholicism in 1914. His work was marked by a Catholic humanism fixed on the future, "he believed that Catholic culture was a central and overlooked feature in the West, and he was greatly concerned about the future of Western civilization." (Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts).
The prestigious Gifford Lectures were established at four Scottish universities in 1888 to foster knowledge of natural theology as a science. William James’s Gifford Lectures, published as The Varieties of Religious Experience, were perhaps the most famous of the series. The Lectures were interrupted by World War II and were not delivered between 1942 and 1947. Dawson resumed the Gifford Lectures by tracing the religious foundations of civilizations through the origins of science and law and authority. Each of the ten chapters is prefaced with a brief note of synopsis.
Dawson was influential in Great Britain before the war but Maisie Ward claimed that he was quite popular with American audiences in the post-war period: "'the twofold relationship religion and civilisation has been worked out more fully by Christopher Dawson than by any other historian of today. He has shown how religion has been in most societies at once the origin of culture and social custom and the dynamic that gave vitality to society.' This was a recurring theme in Dawson's work and the central theme of the Gifford Lectures. When these were published the following year by Sheed & Ward under the title Religion and Culture, Dawson received an enthusiastic letter from C.S. Lewis: 'I embarked on it at once and indeed by greedily reading it at lunch and splashing it with gravy have already deprived the copy of some of its freshness.'" (Joseph Pearce). In 1958, Dawson was named the first Charles Chauncey Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University where he taught for several years before returning to England because of ill health. First impression published by Sheed and Ward in 1948.