James S. Cutsinger
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BIOGRAPHY
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TEACHER

Although Professor Cutsinger maintains an active publishing program, he has always considered himself first and foremost a classroom teacher, and he has been fortunate in receiving 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 was selected most recently as his university's Michael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year for 2011.

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 traditionalist or perennialist school of comparative religious thought, and he also directs 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. Specific courses are described in his syllabi.

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, proportions suggested, ideas plotted on spectrums in order to stimulate a specific manner of thinking, one that will persist, he hopes, when the details of a given course are forgotten. He finds that this pedagogy generates a certain intensity: students quickly sense that they are contributors to a larger dialogue, whose significance transcends deadlines and grades.

Strategies naturally differ. In his honors seminars, where the focus is on classic primary texts in religion, philosophy, literature, history, and politics, 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 passť, are approached as still living, if provisional, truths, and employed in such a way as to challenge his students' preconceptions as to The Way Things Really Are. Examinations and essay assignments are designed to encourage a similar elenchus.

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, may be usefully consulted for a fuller picture of his pedagogical philosophy and for his vision of what constitute truly "great books", and it can perhaps serve as a template for others with similar interests in a truly higher education.

Professor Cutsinger has a special concern for promoting good writing. In courses with a substantial essay requirement, every student receives a copy of his Breviary of English Usage, a short handbook developed at the start of his teaching career. A quick glance at this guide is enough to demonstrate how seriously he takes his responsibilities in this domain. With few exceptions, this seriousness seems contagious. Students realize how demanding he is, and most come to demand much of themselves.

 

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Sages in a Landscape 18th Century

Saint Gregory the Theologian

Book of Durrow

Ladder of Divine Graces

Japanese School

 

 

Professor James S. Cutsinger Department of Religious Studies University of South Carolina
© 2007 by James S. Cutsinger. All rights reserved.
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