Tuesday, November 16

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, November 16, 2010 19 comments
My brainy Ravenclaw friends, you'll be pleased to know that muggles in academia are giving Rowling's fictional world very serious study.

The first professorial types to bring Rowling into academia were the literature buffs. Some, of course, approached the popular series with suspicion and snobbery. Others saw the richness of Rowling's world and her engagement with existing tropes: the orphan story, the hero's quest, the boarding school adventure, kid sleuth mystery and dark humor ala Roald Dahl. Others delved deeper and saw exciting things in Rowling's narrative technique--especially narrative misdirection and the limited third person perspective as tools for educating the reader while Harry also learns.

Some, like John Granger, found Rowing engaging with mythology, alchemy and (gasp!) even allegory. I HIGHLY recommend his books for exploring the deeper layers of the series (written for a general audience--very readable). And check out his fabulous blog, too. A new generation of scholars is subjecting the series to existing schools of literary criticism: archetypal criticism, feminist readings, psychoanalytical readings, reader-response, Marxist crit, etc. To give you an idea of the sorts of scholarly interest the books have generated, see a call for papers for an academic symposium HERE.

If you're toying with getting a PhD in English, know that yes, you can write your dissertation on Harry Potter!

Philosophy and Social Sciences
Literature profs. aren't the only ones taking Harry seriously. Philosophers have also been intrigued by the deeper questions Rowling's work explores. The difference between rule-following and virtue is one of many aspects of moral philosophy explored. The ethics of enslaving house elves, of oppressing centaurs, and other such questions are also of interest to philosophers. So is the epistemology (how we know what we know) at play when our hero's perspective is often limited and wrongheaded.

These are questions that intrigue my husband and led him to create a course called Harry Potter and Philosophy at his university. He also contributed a chapter to this fun collection of "philosophy for beginners" essays that engage Rowling's world--The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles. It was published by Wiley-Blackwell, an academic press!

One of the guest speakers he's brought in for the course is Potter specialist Travis Prinzi whose work Harry Potter and Imagination: A Way Between Two Worlds also engages philosophical ideas in Rowling's work. Travis also runs a fabulous blog, The Hog's Head and does a series of podcasts.

Social scientists have also been exploring the cultural and psychological implications of the books. Media studies experts study the films, fan fiction, fan art, Wizard Rock and other phenomena surrounding the series.

Don't forget to visit the others celebrating Harry Potter Week!
Jen Daiker
Lisa Galek
Renae Mercado
Colene Murphy
Melissa Wideen
What do you think of academia's embrace of the Harry Potter series? If you could take a college course on HP, which discipline would you choose: literature, philosophy, sociology, media studies?


  1. HI Laurel,

    I really enjoyed your post. I especially liked that you featured Ravenclaw. This house is the least represented in the series until the last book. I think is incredible that scholars are delving deeper into Rowling writing. I would have loved to take an English Lit course in it. Sadly the books came out after I graduated...

    Many of the sites you posted look awesome. I must check them out. Thanks for the info.


  2. woo! I'm over from Jen & Mel's--lovin the H.P. love! It's true what you say. I was working in the university setting when Goblet came out and at that point it was still "what IS all this kid book business?" sigh. How everything has changed, yes? :o) <3

  3. This is great. I get quite frustrated at those who refuse to take Harry Potter seriously for the mere reason that it is popular. They insist it is a fad that will fade away in 50 years...I hope I'm still alive then to smirk as it takes its place among timeless classics.

  4. I saw that! I would so go back to college if I could take those classes. And her books are classics. I believe that whole heatedly. They will be around for aaaaages!

  5. Oh too choose, that would be so tough. I would definitely take all the classes I could, but my first two would be sociology and literature for sure!

    Great post! So glad to have you on the team!

  6. Michael: It's knowing that courses like the exist that make me want to audit one, just for fun. Of course that would mean no time to write fiction.... And enjoy the links. Granger's site and Prinzi's are both awesome.

    LTM: Academia had to kind of get over itself. Popularity isn't necessarily a disqualifier for being worthy of study any more, thank goodness. I think it took some pioneers to open up the field.

    Faith: It's guys like John Granger we have to thank for that. He really does some amazing work--and has been since the first three books came out.

  7. Colene: By definition, a classic is something that stands up to repeated reads and continues to reveal new layers. HP definitely fits!

    Jen: It's so fascinating all the layers that have begun to be studied. I bet you'd like my husband's class a lot, even if philosophy sounds intimidating. He's an amazing teacher.

  8. I'd take all the HP oriented class I possible could! That is SO fascinating. I didn't realize there was so many books/things out there for HP. I saw that Philosophy book when I was at Epcot at Disneyworld in the english section. I almost got it but didn't. I really want to order it though!

  9. I would have LOVED to take a class like your husband's when I was in college. The only philosophy class I had studied Saint Augustine. Somehow I think Rowling's philosophy would be far more entertaining. And easier to understand!

  10. Sociology. Something I've always wanted to write is an epic tale. Harry Potter is an epic tale, and it creates a huge draw. Fun post.

  11. Actually, we read a bit of Augustine in my Harry Potter course. :-)

  12. I would have loved to have taken a class like this in college. Any class offered would be fascinating! Loved this post.

  13. Melissa: My hubby was surprised and delighted that a Disney bookstore was carrying his book! It is pretty cool that academia is taking Harry seriously at last--and tapping into student's natural enthusiasm to get them interested in various disciplines.

    Sherrie: My husband pipes up below--that Augustine is included in class readings. The course uses HP as case studies to explore philosophy concepts. So major philosophers are read to more deeply understand some of what Rowling is doing in the books.

  14. Lois: Race and class are two big socological concepts Rowling writes about--surely those things would be covered in such a course.

    Joel: It's no "Mickey Mouse course" for sure.

    Renae: Pretty cool, isn't it? I'm especially fascinated by how many different disciplines see HP as of interest to their field.

  15. I think this is awesome! I love the idea of discussing HP's relationship to other acedemic fields. I would have totally taken your husband's class. It sounds awesome!

    Oh, and I did try to do my master's thesis on Harry Potter, but my professor wouldn't let me (to be fair, he hadn't read the series and felt he couldn't advise me on it). Boo!

  16. Lisa: I knew you'd totally groove on this! It's all so fascinating. Bummer that your adviser couldn't flex on your thesis project. :-(

  17. All of them would be fun - literature and philosophy or psychology would be my favorites. Your husband's work sounds fabulous. Thanks to you and your posts, I jumped on the bandwagon for my take on the Magic of Harry Potter. Thanks for chiming in!

  18. If there was a class relating Harry Potter to religion, I would take that. Being a religious studies major made me interesting in anything to do with religious history. These philosophies and classes always remind me of Buff The Vampire Slayer classes and dissertations. There was so much out there on that show as well.

  19. Mary: Glad you joined the fun!

    Abby: a couple of the authors I mentioned do look pretty deeply into Christian themes and motifs running through the series. Here is some good stuff from John Granger: http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/25-essays-on-christian-themes-in-harry-potter/