James S. Cutsinger

(b. 1953) is an author, editor, translator, and teacher whose publications are focused primarily on the perennialist school of comparative religion and the theology and spirituality of the Christian East. Cutsinger is a professor of theology and religious thought at the University of South Carolina and an advocate of Socratic teaching. He serves as secretary to the Foundation for Traditional Studies, is a widely recognized authority on the perennialist school, and is perhaps best known for his work on Frithjof Schuon.

In 1975 Cutsinger received his B.A. from Cornell College in Political Theory and Russian language and literature and in 1980 his Ph.D. from Harvard University in theology. Beginning with his doctoral studies at Harvard, and continuing throughout his professional career, Cutsinger’s scholarly work has been focused on challenging contemporary academic assumptions concerning the nature of man and the limits of knowledge. This has meant calling the bluff on his fellow scholars of religion, the majority of whom have acceded to the dominant scientism of the age and have thus felt obliged to approach their subject as a purely human phenomenon, whether as historians, anthropologists, psychologists, or critical readers of texts. Cutsinger prefers to listen instead to the traditional sages and saints, both East and West, whose voices he has brought to bear in critiquing the critics and with the aim of opening the hearts and minds of his readership to a larger view of themselves and Reality.

Cutsinger’s first book, The Form of Transformed Vision: Coleridge and the Knowledge of God, is an exploration of what this poet and metaphysician called “the mind’s self-experience in the act of thinking”, and it contains a regimen of mental exercises prescribed for activating a noetic or intellective form of consciousness. In his foreword to the book, English philosopher Owen Barfield—whom C. S. Lewis called “the wisest and best of my unofficial teachers”—speaks of Cutsinger’s “meticulous, unhurried, superabundantly documented exegesis of what Coleridge thought”, though the focus of the volume, as Barfield himself acknowledges, is more consistently on how than on what, on how to think like Coleridge and his Platonist predecessors.

Advice to the Serious Seeker: Meditations on the Teaching of Frithjof Schuon extends the same basic line of inquiry. In this book, however, Cutsinger takes the further step of showing that a truly adequate transformation of knowledge must take into account a more than mental discipline. Here he explores the perennialist perspective of the Swiss philosopher of comparative religion Frithjof Schuon and a case is built for Schuon’s distinctive claim that “if one would know That which is, one must be That which knows”. Clear and careful thinking is not enough: adequation to God presupposes engagement and method at every level of the self—not just the mind but the emotions, the will, and the body. “Knowledge saves us”, writes Schuon, “only on condition that it engages all that we are, only when it is a way and when it works and transforms and wounds our nature even as the plough wounds the soil.”

Much of Professor Cutsinger’s recent scholarly work has been devoted to various editing projects. His initial efforts in this domain came in publishing the proceedings from an international ecumenical conference he organized and convened at Rose Hill College in 1995 during a visiting appointment as academic dean: Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox in Dialogue.

In 2001 he was again instrumental in creating, planning, and orchestrating a major interfaith symposium, this time at the University of South Carolina on the occasion of the university’s bicentennial, and this became the basis for his edited collection Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East. These two volumes were quickly followed by an anthology of mystical texts selected from a broad spectrum of figures in the history of Christian spirituality: Not of This World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism. Presented from the perspective of the “transcendent unity of denominations”, the anthology includes selected writings of Christian sages and saints from the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, and Celtic branches of the Christian tradition.

Since 2002 Cutsinger’s translating, editing, and annotating energies have been focused primarily on the writings of Schuon. Thus far Cutsinger has published two anthologies of Schuon’s writings: The Fullness of God: Frithjof Schuon on Christianity and Prayer Fashions Man: Frithjof Schuon on the Spiritual Life. In association with World Wisdom, he has also edited a number of the books of Frithjof Schuon in a series of new translations with selected letters. Fully annotated and indexed, each volume features a new translation from the French, an appendix of letters and other previously unpublished materials, and a glossary of technical terms. Completed thus far are the following titles: Gnosis: Divine Wisdom, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence, Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts, Christianity/Islam: Perspectives on Esoteric Ecumenism, and Logic and Transcendence.

Although Professor Cutsinger maintains an active publishing program, he has always considered himself first and foremost a classroom teacher, and he has received a number of accolades for his work in that arena. The recipient of three University of South Carolina Mortar Board Excellence in Teaching awards, he has also been named a Distinguished Honors Professor and has been selected as one of his university’s Michael J. Mungo Teachers of the Year. A past director of three National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars for Teachers, Cutsinger offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate religious studies courses on world religions, Christian theology, the philosophy of religion, and the perennialist school of comparative religious thought, and he is also responsible for a series of great books seminars in USC’s South Carolina Honors College.

In every case the stress is placed on ideas: historical frameworks are not neglected, but the emphasis throughout is principial. His chief purpose in teaching is to exhibit and promote a method of intellectual inquiry, not to promulgate a particular content. Each of his classes is naturally focused on a specific set of ideas, and he expects his students to learn them. But rather than launching a direct assault on their memories, he tries instead to provoke reflection. Questions are asked, propositions suggested, ideas plotted on spectrums in order to stimulate a specific manner of thinking, one that will persist when the details of a given course are forgotten.

In his honors great books seminars, where the focus is on classic primary texts in religion, philosophy, literature, history, and political thought, he uses the Socratic method exclusively. But even in his larger, lecture courses, the mode of presentation is primarily conversational and dialectical: each course is essentially an extended argument, and the various ideas encountered along the way, rather than serving as specimens of something remote or passé, are approached as still living, if provisional, truths, and employed in such a way as to challenge his students’ preconceptions.

In the late 1990s, Professor Cutsinger was instrumental in the creation of a small great books college in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Though the institution was soon forced to close its doors for financial reasons, the Rose Hill College Catalogue that he prepared for this educational venture, based in part on the models afforded by great books programs at St John’s College and Thomas Aquinas College, gives a fuller picture of his pedagogical philosophy and his vision of what constitute truly “great books”.

Cutsinger is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, and the Foundation for Traditional Studies. He lives with his wife in Aiken, South Carolina and has three children.