Gauri Viswanathan named the Stanley Kelley Jr. Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching

Written by
Sarah Malone, Department of English
May 23, 2024
Gauri Viswanathan

Gauri Viswanathan. Photo courtesy of Columbia University

For the 2024-25 academic year, Princeton English welcomes Gauri Viswanathan as the Stanley Kelley, Jr., Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching in the Department of English. She will teach in the spring 2025 semester.

Viswanathan is the Class of 1933 Professor in the Humanities in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where she has taught since 1990 and was awarded Columbia’s Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching in 2018.

Anvita Budhraja CC’18, the Van Doren Award committee chair, cited “the unmistakably global scale of [Viswanathan’s] thinking” in the classroom, and outside the classroom “the ease of communication that she maintains.”

Campus Wire featured Viswanathan’s course “Occultism, Postcoloniality, and Modernism” as one of the most innovative courses offered in spring 2020. In an interview with Campus Wire on the course’s research background and aims, Viswanathan said that the course reflected a long-term interest in a branch of “what misleadingly came to be known as ‘discarded’ knowledge, superseded by Enlightenment rationality.” In fact, occultism entered academic disciplines such as comparative religion and anthropology as an object of study, even shaping these disciplines by creating a narrative arc, and that with recent, impressive scholarship, Viswanathan thought the time was right to offer to course and build on this scholarship in her syllabus.

“The driving focus of the course is: What makes occultism modern?” Viswanathan said.

She tried to bring attention in the course “to the language of selfhood that took occultism away from its associations with the irrational and introduced a new language of consciousness, exploring the inner self and the psyche.”

The course, offered in the English department and open to both graduate students and advanced undergraduates, also enrolled students from history, anthropology, art history, film studies, and creative writing.

“Viswanathan encourages students to explore alternative epistemologies,” wrote Associate Professor of English Meredith Martin in her nomination letter, “what could have happened and what might still be possible. She instills in students that sense of the possible as well, and shows them places full of new possibilities for research.”

Established by an anonymous alumnus in honor of Stanley Kelley, Jr., Professor of Politics, Emeritus, the Stanley Kelley, Jr. Visiting Professorship for Distinguished Teaching supports distinguished visitors in any field within the University.

Viaswanathan’s first book, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India (Oxford, 1990) “changed the course of history for English as a discipline,” Martin noted.

In 2018, Viaswanathan visited Princeton for a mini-symposium, speaking on the topic of 18th and 19th century secularities. Martin noted that her presence on campus even for a day attracted students from many disciplines.

Viaswanathan’s second book, Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief, published by Princeton University Press, was awarded the Harry Levin Prize by the American Comparative Literature Association, the James Russell Lowell Prize by the Modern Language Association of America, and the Ananda K. Coomaraswamy Prize by the Association for Asian Studies.

“What can and should departments of literature envision as their responsibility to a healthy democracy?” Martin asked. “In this tumultuous period in our nation’s history and in this period of self-examination for institutions of higher learning, we can think of no better scholar to help us process the legacies and possible futures of English as a discipline.”