Arnold Toynbee

Arnold Toynbee
History and Religion

Arnold Toynbee’s views on religion were conditioned by his world historical theories, as expressed in his monumental Study of History. His religious faith intensified in later life after some traumatic life events (most notably the loss of a son through suicide and his divorce from his first wife Rosalind); and also after personal mystical experiences. The later volumes of his Study and other works from the 1950s were frankly more mystical than his earlier works. His opinions also became steadily more ecumenical in tone, ultimately embracing all major religions.

This can be illustrated from an examination of two works from the 1950s: An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956) and Christianity Among the Religions of the World (1958). The first, short book was based on the Gifford lectures he gave at the University of Edinburgh in 1952 and 1953. Toynbee was an inveterate giver of public lectures, as well as an incredibly productive (some think over-productive) writer. This dated from his more impecunious early days, and an enduring memory he had of his father’s financial difficulties. Toynbee himself achieved his brilliant University career only by winning scholarships, and he never afterwards missed an opportunity to earn money by giving public speeches and lectures (he toured the US many times basically to make some money) and by writing for newspapers and magazines. He never became financially secure until the brilliant success of D.C. Somervell’s abridgment of the first six volumes of the Study in 1946, and perhaps he was never really secure in his mind about his financial safety. He had an almost visceral anxiety about being poor.(This was a constant source of friction with Rosalind, who as a Carlilse aristocrat, whose family homes included Castle Howard, was – at least in her husband’s eyes – too spendthrift).

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