University of South Carolina

Religious-studies prof Cutsinger earns top award

In what is perhaps his most popular course—Faith, Doubt, and God—Cutsinger invites students to tackle the question of whether there is a God. And he issues a guarantee that, no doubt, adds to the course’s popularity: he will prove by semester’s end that God exists.

“I limit enrollment in that course to 75, and it’s like playing several boards of chess simultaneously,” he said. “I take stances and say off-the-wall things to get the conversation started. Sometimes I play the role of atheist if they’re getting too comfortable in the theist camp.”

Cutsinger has written or edited 13 books, including several translations of works by the Swiss philosopher of religion Frithjof Schuon. He’s also written extensively about epistemology, the study of the origin, nature, and scope of knowledge.

“Many religious studies professors assume that a scientific epistemology is the only paradigm under which we should operate in an academic setting: I think that’s nonsense,” said Cutsinger, who refers to himself as the University’s epistemology diversity officer. “I’m not a Luddite or opposed to the scientific method, but I am saying there are other ways of knowing.”

Cutsinger’s interest in solid writing carries over into his teaching: he issues his own Breviary of English Usage as a style guide for students and devotes endless hours to critiquing their assigned essays.

Cutsinger was fresh out of Harvard’s graduate school when he came to USC. He was so young looking, in fact, that while placing a textbook order he was told by a bookstore staffer that his professor would have to order the book. Thirty-one years and a few gray hairs later, Cutsinger seems as energetic as when he arrived.        

“Every day I teach is different. I’m not bored after 60 semesters,” he said. “It’s really kind of ridiculous to get an award for something that you love to do.”

What his students say…

Professor Cutsinger does an incredible job of bringing complicated material to life in a way that engages our minds. He makes us think critically about our opinions and beliefs and truly evaluate them in depth. He adroitly handles the material he teaches with equal amounts of information and wit, one of the best ways to keep us engaged."

 "I've never had a teacher [who] knew so much or at least expressed it so well. He has a passion for teaching and it shows. He loves opposing opinions and approaches teaching religion in a new and honestly challenging way."

 "Professor Cutsinger is the reason why I can say I am happy to have majored in the humanities. He does not simply teach material: he teaches new ways of thinking."

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