Progress and Religion, by Christopher H. Dawson | Presentation by José Maria J. Yulo, Part 2/2


August 11, 2021

In this second of two videos, Dr. José M.J. Yulo utilizes a fascinating presentation of major works of art to discuss the landmark book, “Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry,” by the brilliant, Christian, 20th Century, historian Christopher H. Dawson.

1: “Ishtar Gate of Babylon” (575 B.C.), Pergamon Museum, Berlin
2: “Mosaic Ceiling of the Florence Baptistery,” Coppo di Marcovaldo (14th century A.D.), Santa Croce Church, Florence
3: “St. Francis and Twenty Stories from His Life” (“Bardi Panel”), Coppo di Marcovaldo (1245-1250) St. Francis Santa Croce Church, Florence
4: “St. Thomas Aquinas Stained Glass,” Domenico Ghirlandaio (1485-1490), Maria Novella Church, Florence
5: “Crucifixion,” Donatello (1465), Bargello Museum, Florence
6: “The Call to Arms,” Auguste Rodin (1879), Legion of Honor, San Francisco
7: “Pieta,” Valmore Gemignani (1923), Santa Maria del Carmine Church, Florence


“Progress and Religion” was the most influential of all the books by Christopher Dawson, establishing him as an epic interpreter of history, historian of ideas, and critic of materialist philosophy and secular culture. The book has been described as a brilliant work of synthesis, for in this single volume he outlined his main thesis for the history of culture. Anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, and history formed 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 dangerously 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 the WWI. “Progress and Religion” was clearly intended to challenge the doctrine of progress, the rather naïve but persistent belief that in every day and “in every way the world grows better and better.”

Dawson argues that Western civilization was at a turning point and confronted with two choices: reappropriate a vital Christian culture or move increasingly toward more dangerous and alienated expressions of consumerism and totalitarianism. In “Progress and Religion,” he contends that no culture could truly thrive if cut off from its religious roots.

“Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry,” by Christopher H. Dawson, foreword by Christina Scott, introduction by Mary Douglas

“The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature,” by C.S. Lewis

José M.J. Yulo is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and a Member of the Board of Directors of the C.S. Lewis Society of California, and he teaches western civilization at the Academy of Art U. Dr. Yulo received his Bachelor’s degree in the classical liberal arts from St. John’s College, Master’s degree in political communication from Emerson College, and Ed.D. in the philosophy of education from the U. of San Francisco.

Born in 1889 and educated at Winchester College and Trinity College, Oxford, Christopher H. Dawson began his academic career studying modern history. Becoming a Roman Catholic shortly after his time at Oxford, Dawson focused on issues of European culture and religion. Lecturer in the History of Culture, University College, Exeter; Gifford Lecturer; Fellow, British Academy; and first recipient of the Chauncey Stillman Chair of Roman Catholic Studies, Harvard U.

His first book, “The Age of the Gods,” came after a period of thorough research, but it was his second work, “Progress and Religion,” which first demonstrated the depth and range of his thought and drew attention to his vehement critique of materialism.

Dawson’s main concern was the centrality and dynamism of religion, but particularly for European culture. During the 1930s he edited the book series, “Essays in Order,” and authored the book “The Making of Europe,” in which he argued that the so-called Dark Ages were the most creative period in the culture of the West. His other books include “Christianity and the New Age,” “Medieval Religion and Other Essays,” “Religion and the Modern State,” and “Beyond Politics.” Later, Dawson’s focus broadened to the relationship of Christianity to other religions, including “Mission to Asia,” “The Dividing of Christendom” and “The Formation of Christendom.”

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