A note from James’s family, 2/19/2020
James S. Cutsinger, 66, reposed in the Lord on February 19, 2020 at his home in Aiken, South Carolina, after a two-and-a-half-year journey through metastatic lung cancer.
He was born on May 4, 1953 in Aurora, Illinois, the son of the late Madonna and Everett Cutsinger. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political theory and Russian language and literature from Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, in 1975, and a Ph.D. in theology and comparative religious thought from Harvard University in 1980. He was a professor of religious studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina, from 1980 until his health forced him to a premature retirement in 2018.
His greatest love was teaching through Socratic dialogue, and to this end he instituted a series of “great books” classes in the USC Honors College. Many were the students who became not only devotees of his classes, but also friends of the family and who continue to be a part of the life of the Cutsingers. His teaching earned him numerous accolades at USC, most notably the Michael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year award in 2011, the University’s highest faculty honor. But his greatest achievement is the scores of students who entered upon their careers as more thoughtful, logical, and faithful human beings.
Professor Cutsinger was a scholar of the perennial philosophy and was widely published, with an emphasis on the writings of the Swiss philosopher Frithjof Schuon. His attention to the details of proper grammar and logical thought carried through both his teaching and his scholarship. He had the unique ability to meld his personal and professional lives into a unified whole that bespoke his great faith and confidence. He was, in short, a “serious seeker” after the Truth. One of his early publications, Advice to the Serious Seeker: Meditations on the Writings of Frithof Schuon, is a good example of the guidance he offered concerning the spiritual life.
Professor Cutsinger was a spiritual man himself, one who found incomparable beauty and inspiration in the liturgy, iconography, and music of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was a man of strict routine, he was a man of humor, and he was a man who liked to eat! His children would often find this raconteur devouring some kind of chocolate confection while poring over the works of Plato, G. I. Gurdjieff, C. S. Lewis, or David Bentley Hart.
James’s peregrination through life in this world found him rising early every day to allow time for prayer, meditation, yoga, and a hike in his beloved Hitchcock Woods with his canine companion, Sita—whom he named after the heroine of the Hindu epic poem, the Ramayana—before beginning his day’s work. He was a man who couldn’t abide disorder, and he was steadfastly traditional. His children knew him for his “Mozart” laugh and the corny jokes that brought him so much delight. He had a soft, compassionate heart that truly understood the complexities of the human condition. He often spoke of his life’s work being focused on the vertical rather than the horizontal, and it was his utmost desire to help others look “up” as well. His belief in salvation was sure, and he embraced the next and final journey as an end to his suffering and the beginning of unification with God.
He was devoted to his family, including his wife of 43 ½ years, Carol; two daughters, Leah (John Thomas) Emery of Aiken and Kellyn (Alexander) McCullough of Putney, Vermont, and one son, Trevor (Emily) Cutsinger of Aiken; 5 grandchildren, Julian, Damian, and Theodore Cutsinger, Anna Emery, and Desmond Elias McCullough; and a sister, Margery Pabst (Charles) Steinmetz of Winter Park, Florida.
If you have found yourself stumbling over any of the somewhat less than common words deliberately included in this obituary, be assured that the Professor would have been most pleased to offer one final teaching moment.
James S. Cutsinger (Ph.D., Harvard) is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of South Carolina.
The recipient of a number of teaching awards, including recognition as USC’s Michael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year, Cutsinger taught for nearly forty years in the Department of Religious Studies, offering lecture courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels as well as frequent seminars in the University’s prestigious Honors College.
Writing on a wide range of figures, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vladimir Solovyov, and C. S. Lewis, Professor Cutsinger is best known for his work on the perennialist or traditionalist school of comparative religious thought and the Swiss philosopher Frithjof Schuon, work informed in a variety of subtle ways by the mystical theology of the Christian East.
For additional information of a more personal kind, please read “A Delicate Balance“.