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Harry Goes to College

It has been a few months since we had some good Potter discussion here on dotCommonweal so I thought wemight bedue.Special reporter to CNN.com, Yalefreshman Patrick Lee wrote an article about the surge of academic classes that are built aroundthe Harry Potter books. At Yale University,oneYale Divinity graduate student designed a course for undergrads called "Christian Theology and Harry Potter." It has been done with C.S. Lewis novels and with J.R.R. Tolkien novels. So why not J.K. Rowling novels which have all the necessary components for generating some wonderful discussions? Lee reports:

The course uses all seven Potter books and the students examine Christian themes such as sin, evil and resurrection. (...)

Although Yale's course is its first Harry Potter-themed offering, other universities, including Georgetown University, Liberty University, Pepperdine University, Stanford University, Lawrence University, Swarthmore and Kansas State University, also have integrated the series into their curricula. (...)

Cat Terrell, a student in Tumminio's course at Yale, said regardless of whether the books are worthy as literary texts, they have helped enhance her understanding of other academic disciplines, including theology. ..."It's amazing how many connections you can draw between the theology that we're reading outside of class and the Harry Potter that we've known for 10 years."

The truth about Harry Potter, whether you like it or not, is that it is not going anywhere. The first Potter book was published in 1997, meaning that a ten year old kid in 1997 is 21 now. Obviously, Harry Potter appeals to people of all different ages but the world is about to introduced to a generation of adults who have lived Harry Potter's adolescence while experiencing their own. For many young kids, the Harry Potter books are the only books they read. I wonderwhatkind of extended legacy Harry Potter willhave as the Potter generation goes on to college and adulthood, especially if the books are being examined through the lens of theology and ethics.

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Deeply hidden under all the excitement, mystery and suspense in Harry Potter is an intensely spiritual symbolism that has escaped the notice of fans and the mass media, but nevertheless is being picked up by the subconscious minds of millions of children all over the world. It's a conspiracy of love, a triumph of divine light. If we can disregard the trimmings, the basic story of Harry Potter is consistent with all the great myths, epics and scriptural narratives of the human race since time immemorial. The symbolism in Harry Potter is universal and timeless. Just look at the basic story: A prophecy is made that a baby is to be born who will change the world. He is born and a star appears to announce his birth. When the king of this world hears about the birth he tries to have the baby killed, but fails. The child grows up in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man. He performs miracles at a young age, but as he grows older he knows he will have to defeat his arch-enemy: Satan. Our hero prepares to sacrifice himself for the world, and so he surrenders himself, undefended, to face certain death. He is killed, and goes into an underworld, where he can choose to 'go on' or come back. He comes back victorious, as a Master of Death, i.e. eternal life, to liberate the world of evil. We all know that story - that's the story of Jesus. But it's also the story of Harry Potter. In Harry's case the star is Sirius, who becomes his God-Father. At a young age Harry saves many lives, wins battles against dragons and giant snakes, and faces death by Voldemort time and again. The story of the hero who enters the world of the dead and then comes back to save the world is universal. It's the story of Orpheus, Bacchus, Attis, Osiris, Dionysus, and many others, going back thousands of years. This archetypical story resonates in the collective unconscious of so many millions because humanity has incessantly been confronted by the symbolism of the Inner God asleep in the human heart, like the bud of a pure, dazzlingly white lily. We can awaken the Prince of Peace by answering God's call to return to Him. That answer is to thirst for God, like a hunted stag thirsting for the flowing water of the forest stream. This thirst will open the bud, and a new soul will be born, who will commence the struggle against the seeker's own evil, selfishness, and darkness. He will triumph, and when he does he will lift the seeker above death, suffering and evil. This is the hidden symbolism in the world's most popular book. This is the symbolism that resonates with the collective unconscious, explaining the book's popularity. This is the conspiracy which is bringing light into this world of war, terrorism, human trafficking, child soldiers, drug abuse and endless violence. The light will work its way to the surface, causing millions of people to become seekers for the way back to the Father, like the prodigal son. And there will be a new faith: the faith in the Inner God, asleep in every heart. There isn't enough space to tell readers all about the wonderful symbolism in "Harry Potter" so I hope I may invite them to visit my website, whcih is dedicated to the tremenously powerful spiritual symbolism hidden underneath the superficial story: harrypotterforseekers.com.Hans AndraHaarlem, Netherlands

Isn't this kind of like The Daily Show and Philosophy or The Physics of Star Trek? Just about anything can provoke discussion of serious topics, but I really doubt that J. K. Rowling has as much to tell us about Christian theology as C. S. Lewis. There must be tens of thousand of books to peg a course in Christian theology to that would be more suitable than the Harry Potter books. And if these are the only books many young people have read, rather than offering a college course about them, wouldn't it be better to get young people in college to read something else?

If spirituality and self-discovery are the same--a popular idea, actually--then Harry Potter is an ideal guide to the spiritual life.It spiritual life is the ongoing process of being "transferred into the kingdom" of the Son of the Father by the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit, Rowling has nothing to say.Harry learns to be comfortable with his powers and to direct them according to the best norms of his community. That's saying a lot--but it is not saying Christian salvation.