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Christopher Dawson: Culture, Cult and Cultivation

Every culture is like a plant. It must have its roots in the earth, and for sunlight it needs to be open to the spiritual. At the present moment we are busy cutting its roots and shutting out all light from above.

Christopher Dawson

I’ve been skimming (really, skimming) the thought of Christopher Dawson after hearing him mentioned on the Rebuilders podcast. If you’re not familiar, here’s a bit about him:

Christopher Dawson was regarded in his lifetime as one of the great Catholic intellectuals of his age: a universal historian whose scope and insight matched that of Spengler, Jaspers, Weber and Toynbee. T.S. Eliot called him the most influential writer in England. He had done more than almost any other English-speaking scholar to rehabilitate the Middle Ages as a formative period for modernity, rather than as an interlude between Rome and Renaissance. Yet today Dawson is at best a B-lister, the sort of author who makes it onto “great books” courses in American liberal arts colleges with a Catholic bent, providing a bit of reserve ammunition for proponents of the “Chesterbelloc” view of the world. He has so far not profited much from the revival of interest in universal history which has favoured the re-reading of figures like Toynbee and Voegelin.

The Tablet – Was Christopher Dawson right all along?

Dawson was apparently fond of pointing out that the world ‘culture’ has its origins in both ‘cultivation’ and ‘cult’ – as in, religious worship.

I don’t have anything profound to say about this, apart from to suggest that these are two important lenses for thinking about the culture of your family/community/organisation/nation:

What do we worship? (idolise, venerate, promote as ideal)
What are we cultivating? (What fruit might we expect from our what we do / our habits / attitudes / thoughts?)

Bonus (overlapping) questions: What are your roots? Is there enough light?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...