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James Cutsinger’s life and work
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James Cutsinger
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Biography of James Cutsinger

James S. Cutsinger (1953-2020) was an author, editor, and teacher whose writings focus primarily on Perennialism and the theology and spirituality of the Christian East. Cutsinger was a professor of Theology and Religious Thought at the University of South Carolina for almost 40 years, and was an advocate of Socratic Teaching. He served as secretary to the Foundation for Traditional Studies, is a widely recognized authority on the Traditionalist or Perennialist school of comparative religion, 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 he received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Theology and Religious Thought. 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 of 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 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 Traditionalist or 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.”

Most of Cutsinger’s more 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 were 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 begun editing 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.

Although Professor Cutsinger maintained an active publishing program, he always considered himself first and foremost a classroom teacher, and he 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 was also named a Distinguished Honors Professor and was 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 offered 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 was 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 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 passé, are approached as still living, if provisional, truths, and employed in such a way as to challenge his students’ preconceptions. As proof of his outstanding abilities as a teacher and mentor, in 2011 James S. Cutsinger received the Michael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year award, USC’s most prestigious faculty award.

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 for his vision of what constitute truly “great books”.

Cutsinger was a member of the American Academy of Religion, the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, and the Foundation for Traditional Studies.

Adapted from the biography on Professor James S. Cutsinger’s website:

Books/DVDs containing the work of James Cutsinger

Prof. James Cutsinger's contributions to World Wisdom's books include:

Editor of:   Contributed:

In addition, Prof. Cutsinger has edited a series of new editions of the books of Frithjof Schuon, which feature new translations, previously unpublished materials by Schuon, and Prof. Cutsinger's own editor's notes to help readers understand unfamiliar references, terms, etc.

New editions of Frithjof Schuon books, edited by James S. Cutsinger:

James Cutsinger’s Writings Online
 TitleSourceAuthor 1Author 2SubjectWW HTMLWW PDFExternal Link
James S. Cutsinger states that "the primary aim of this article is to present an account of an evolving world…fully consistent with the principles presupposed…by metaphysics and theology." Cutsinger offers some compelling thoughts on how emanation, creation, and evolution might, in fact, be reconciled, contrary to the dichotomy that typically exists when modernist and perennialist thinkers state their views on how creation has come to be as it is.
On Earth as It Is in, the website of Prof. James S. CutsingerCutsinger, James Cosmology
This essay by James S. Cutsinger has a twofold purpose: to describe a particular school of thought, the perennialist or traditionalist school, as represented by three twentieth-century metaphysical authors: Ananda Coomaraswamy, René Guénon, and—especially—Frithjof Schuon; and to emphasize in particular their views of the feminine and the role femininity plays in their critique of modern thought. Along the way, Cutsinger discusses the distinctive nature of traditionalist/perennialist thought, and summarizes many of the most important doctrines of this way of thinking (and being).
Femininity, Hierarchy, and, the website of Prof. James S. CutsingerCutsinger, James Tradition
In the text of this recent address to a religion and science faculty discussion group, Prof. James S. Cutsinger tells us that he wants to "launch a discussion concerning what I believe to be the leading obstacle to any serious dialogue between religion and science. What I have in mind…is the widespread assumption, shared by academics on both sides of the conversation, that human knowledge is limited to the empirical order and that spiritual realities, even supposing they exist, are therefore off limits to a genuinely rational inquiry." Cutsinger's discussion then turns to why and how teachers should encourage students to experience a different order of reality, a topic of great interest to traditionalist/perennialist readers.
Requiring Religion: Be What, the website of Prof. James S. CutsingerCutsinger, James Comparative Religion
Originally published in Christianity: The Complete Guide (2005), this essay by James S. Cutsinger looks within the Christian tradition for means by which to reconcile the Perennial Philosophy and Christian exclusivism. He notes that “…given the common origin of the religions in a transcendent Source which, as the traditions themselves all attest, infinitely exceeds even its own self-expressions, it is in the nature of things that the scriptural and dogmatic formulations of each religion should include certain openings or clues to the underlying validity of the perennial philosophy. These clues may be found not simply on the periphery of religious traditions, but in their most central and essential doctrines.” Cutsinger goes on to suggest that the traditional understanding of the Person of Christ, when rightly interpreted, may open up a bridge to the Perennial Philosophy's understanding of the transcendent unity of religions.
Perennial Philosophy and, the website of Prof. James S. CutsingerCutsinger, James Christianity
This essay's point is to "enter…into Schuon's own perspective, to understand him on his own terms, and to see how he envisions certain crucial ideas" and to explore why Schuon's work is at once both provocative and inviting to so many readers.
A Knowledge That Wounds Our Nature: The Message of Frithjof SchuonJournal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 60, No. 3, 1992Cutsinger, James Commentary
Introduction to Prayer Fashions ManPrayer Fashions Man: Frithjof Schuon on the Spiritual LifeCutsinger, James Metaphysics
Combining a Socratic and a personal approach, Cutsinger looks to the writings and insights of Frithjof Schuon to examine "how in good conscience can a traditional Christian accept the idea that there is a 'transcendental unity of religions'?" The author finds answers in a deeper understanding of Christ's two natures: human and Divine.
The Mystery of the Two NaturesEvery Branch in Me: Essay on the Meaning of ManCutsinger, James Christianity, Comparative Religion, Metaphysics, Perennial Philosophy
Panel Discussions from Paths to the Heart ConferencePaths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian EastCutsinger, James Sufism
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Quotes on James Cutsinger

“Professor Cutsinger is to be congratulated for having organized [the Paths to the Heart Conference, which was] such a memorable interchange of opinions at the level of all that is most profound in the human soul.”
Martin Lings, formerly Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts in the British Museum and author of Muhammad: His Life Based to the Earliest Sources

Paths to the Heart is both timely and timeless. Timely in that the essays assembled here were delivered at a conference devoted to dialogue between scholars of Islam and scholars of Christianity held just a month after September 11, 2001. Timeless in that the conference participants reflect profoundly upon the ‘perennial wisdom’ that can be seen in the convergence of two distinct spiritual traditions: Sufism and the Hesychast tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. These essays eloquently probe, synthesize, and comment on the practices by which Sufi and Hesychast masters have taught generations of followers to discover within the heart the loving presence of God. This book is a spiritual treasure to be read and to be lived.”
Albert J. Raboteau, Henry W. Putnam Professor of Religion, Princeton University

Not of This World is a unique anthology documenting nearly two thousand years of Christian mystical writings from Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant perspectives. This book—both in breadth and depth—is unique among all previously published collections of Christian mystical writings.”
Banyen Books and Sound

“Cutsinger has assembled a dazzling chorus of voices to explore the mysteries of Christian gnosis and deification [in Not of This World]. His selection is daring (where else can one find Boehme, Dante, and C.S. Lewis side-by-side?) and his taste superb. I can’t think of a better collection to place in the hands of anyone seeking to explore the Christian mystical tradition.”
Philip Zaleski, editor of The Best Spiritual Writing series

“There are many anthologies of Christian mysticism, but few that range so widely as this: from the first century to the twentieth, and embracing equally Western Christianity—both Catholic and Protestant—and the Christian East, even the Far East. Not of This World is arranged in three broad sections taking the reader from purification, through illumination, to union with God. Each of these sections is further subdivided to explore the different experiences of the way to union with God, from severe austerity, through diaphanous understanding, to an experience of union that transcends unity.”
Andrew Louth, University of Durham, author of Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys

“This is ‘Understanding Christianity’, to parallel the title of Schuon’s best-selling classic on Islam. James Cutsinger has gathered a florilegium of Schuon’s illuminating insights into Christianity. The editor’s notes will be unobtrusively helpful to many readers. The Fullness of God is a must-read for any person who senses that something essential is lacking in most of what is routinely considered as Christianity today.”
Patrick Laude, Georgetown University, co-author of Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings

“Professor Cutsinger has done us a great service in bringing together Schuon’s widely scattered comments relative to Christianity. The insights of this wonderful book [The Fullness of God] are essential for anyone who wishes to penetrate the depths of the Christian tradition.”
Rama Coormaraswamy, author of The Invocation of the Name of Jesus: As Practiced in the Western Church and The Destruction of the Christian Tradition

“No one knows Schuon’s mind—nor his incomparable gift for transporting attentive readers into their own spiritual depths—better than Cutsinger. In this superb volume [Prayer Fashions Man] he masterfully presents Schuon’s most magisterial passages on the interior life and the soul’s relation to God. His inclusion of previously unpublished letters is a coup that reveals another side of Schuon, a tenderness that places the sage’s adamantine intellectual style in a surprising new light.”
Philip Novak, Dominican University of California, author of The World’s Wisdom

“With this new book [Prayer Fashions Man], James Cutsinger shows he is an authority and teacher of the first rank on the work of Schuon. Professor Cutsinger has a kind of genius for organization, for discovering an ordering principle in the author’s work and using that principle to guide his own decisions. His editorial hand in the choice of texts and the notes is sure and unobtrusive, letting the master speak for himself while opening pathways of understanding for readers of all levels."
Vincent Rossi, Director of Education for the Jerusalem Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church

“Professor Cutsinger has composed an outstanding introduction and supplied some of Schuon’s most lucid and penetrating writings on the spiritual life [in Prayer Fashions Man]. For those longing for a deeper understanding of prayer and its ontological foundations, this collection will prove to be illuminating and invaluable.”
Robert Fastiggi, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

James Cutsinger’s Bibliography


The Form of Transformed Vision: Coleridge and the Knowledge of God. Atlanta, GA: Mercer University, 1987.

Advice to the Serious Seeker: Meditations on the Teaching of Frithjof Schuon. Albany, NY:  State University of New York, 1997.

Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox in Dialogue, edited by James S. Cutsinger. Westmont: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East, edited by James S. Cutsinger. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom/Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2002.

Not of This World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism, edited by James S. Cutsinger. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2003.

The Fullness of God: Frithjof Schuon on Christianity, edited by James S. Cutsinger.  Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2004.

Prayer Fashions Man: Frithjof Schuon on the Spiritual Life, edited by James S. Cutsinger. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2005.

Frithjof Schuon, Gnosis: Divine Wisdom, A New Translation with Selected Letters, edited by James S. Cutsinger. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2006.

Frithjof Schuon, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence, A New Translation with Selected Letters, edited by James S. Cutsinger. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2006.

Frithjof Schuon, Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts: A New Translation with Selected Letters, edited by James S. Cutsinger. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2007.

Frithjof Schuon, Christianity/Islam: Perspectives on Esoteric Ecumenism, A New Translation with Selected Letters, edited by James S. Cutsinger. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2008.

Frithjof Schuon, Logic and Transcendence: A New Translation with Selected Letters, edited by James S. Cutsinger. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2009.

A selected list of articles by the author can be found on his website at

Photographs of James Cutsinger

Perennialist author, editor, and educator
James S. Cutsinger.


Professor James S. Cutsinger on a pilgrimage to Mount Athos with his son Trevor. In the background is the monastery of Simonopetra.

Online Resources about James Cutsinger

Prof. Cutsinger's own website at should be consulted for many more details of his biography, for online writings, for interesting links, and much more. Of particular interest to those who may never had heard James Cutsinger speak, are some audio recordings (in mp3 format) of several papers that he has delivered and which are also available on his web site.
Prof. James S. Cutsinger won a presigious award from the University of South Carolina for being an "outstanding teacher in undergraduate courses." To read more about Prof. Cutsinger and the 2011 Michael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year Award, click here.

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