Tom Holland: Why the West is more Christian than it thinks

Dec 2, 2021 | Announcements, News & Media

Award-winning UK historian, biographer and broadcaster Tom Holland in conversation with Centre Academic Director and Deputy CEO Dr Stephen McInerney

Sydney, Thursday 02 December 2021: What has been the impact of Christianity on the development of Western civilisation? Could it have been so profound that it is now hidden from view? How else to explain that even in a secular West, increasingly doubtful of religion’s claims, we seem to be living unwittingly by Christianity’s moral and ethical codes? Are we ‘goldfish swimming in a Christian pond’?

In our final Ramsay Lecture for 2021, Centre Academic Director and Deputy CEO Dr Stephen McInerney interviews Tom Holland, author of the 2019 Sunday Times best-seller Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind.

In their discussion Mr Holland presses his case for the central place of Christianity in the formation of Western values, arguing ‘Christianity is the most enduring and influential legacy of the ancient world, (and) its emergence the single most transformative development in Western history.’

‘Even the increasing numbers in the West today who have abandoned the faith of their forebears and dismiss all religion as pointless superstition remain recognisably its heirs,’ he claims. ‘Christianity’s enduring impact is not confined to churches, but can be seen everywhere in the West, in science, secularism, in gay rights, even in atheism.’

In a wide-spanning conversation Dr McInerney and Mr Holland discuss:

*How Mr Holland’s interest in antiquity led him to explore how we have shifted from the brutality of ancient times to a more compassionate, rights-driven approach to life today.

*Mr Holland’s belief that the crucifixon and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ‘myth’ which lies at the heart of the development of Western values. Mr Holland argues it is not necessary to believe in the resurrection to acknowledge it transformed our way of thinking, leading to the creation of a belief system that it is nobler to suffer than inflict suffering, and that every human life is of equal value.

*The changing symbolism of the cross and its relationship to concepts of power.

*How Mr Holland believes Christianity permeates even our ‘secular’ structures and led to clumsy identification of world ‘religions’.

*The influence of Christianity on modern concepts of love.

Mr Holland is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Making History and co-writer and co-presenter of the podcast, The Rest is History, with Dominic Sandbrook.  He has written and presented several TV documentaries, for the BBC and Channel 4, on subjects ranging from dinosaurs to ISIS.

He is the author of Rubicon: The Triumph and the Tragedy of the Roman Republic, which won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize; Persian Fire which won the Anglo-Hellenic League’s Runciman Award in 2006; Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of ChristendomIn the Shadow of the Sword, and Dynasty, a portrait of Rome’s first imperial dynasty.

Mr Holland has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for the BBC. In 2007, he was the winner of the Classical Association prize, awarded to ‘the individual who has done most to promote the study of the language, literature and civilisation of Ancient Greece and Rome’. 

Due to COVID-19, this Ramsay Lecture event is recorded. It will be available via our website as both a video and podcast from Tuesday 07 December.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098 /