Room 56 at the Arts Faculty Building at the North Campus of the University of Delhi’s English Department was the venue for a talk by Gauri Viswanathan of Columbia University on January 31. Prof. Viswanathan outlined her theme, “Secrecy, Conversion, and Historicity,” in part as:
Obsessed with the notion of the secret in his writings on religion, Derrida uncannily evokes a predecessor with whom he has rarely, if at all, been compared—Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. My paper argues that Blavatsky's occult writings set the stage for the kinds of speculations on crypto-conversion, conscience, and responsibility that subsequently engaged Derrida. Both Blavatsky and Derrida develop the concept of the secret to signal the histories that have been occluded in the course of religious change. Occult writings unfold this process, and my talk considers a few exemplary texts engaged in producing an ethical knowledge of the effects of religious conversion and crypto-conversion.