Although Professor Cutsinger always maintained an active publishing program, he considered himself first and foremost a classroom teacher, and was fortunate in receiving a number of accolades for his work in that arena, including three Mortar Board Excellence in Teaching awards and recognition as a Distinguished Honors Professor. In 2011 he received the University of South Carolina’s most prestigious faculty award when he was named the Michael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year.
A director of three National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars for Teachers, Cutsinger offered a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate Religious Studies lecture courses on world religions, Christian theology, the philosophy of religion, and the traditionalist or perennialist school of comparative religious thought. He also led numerous seminars—nearly one every term—in USC’s South Carolina Honors College on topics as varied as “The Oxford Inklings”, “Yogis, Mystics, Monks, and Zen Masters”, and “The Mind’s Eye (I): Perspectives on Consciousness”. In every case the stress was placed on ideas: historical frameworks were not neglected, but the emphasis throughout was principial. A representative sampling of his courses can be found under syllabi, readings, lectures.
His chief purpose in teaching was to exhibit and promote a method of intellectual inquiry, not to promulgate a particular content. Each of his classes was naturally focused on a specific set of ideas, and he expected his students to understand and to learn them. But rather than launching a direct assault on their memories, his goal was to provoke reflection. Questions were asked, proportions suggested, and ideas plotted on spectrums in order to stimulate a specific manner of thinking, one that would persist, he hoped, when the details of a given course were forgotten. He found that this pedagogy generated a certain intensity: most students quickly sensed that they were contributors to a larger dialogue, whose significance transcended deadlines and grades.
Strategies naturally differed. In his honors seminars, where the focus was on demanding primary texts in religion, philosophy, literature, history, and politics, he used the Socratic method exclusively. But even in his larger, lecture courses, the mode of presentation was primarily conversational and dialectical: each course was essentially an extended argument, and the various ideas encountered along the way, rather than serving as specimens of something remote or passé, were 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 were 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 was noted—if sometimes lamented by those who came to him unprepared!—for his special concern for promoting good writing. In courses with a substantial essay requirement, every student was obliged to study and make good use 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 took his responsibilities in this domain. With few exceptions, this seriousness seemed contagious. Students realized how demanding he was, and most came to demand much of themselves.