Harry Potter is known to have an incredibly zealous fan base. J.K. Rowling's magical fiction has charmed us with best-selling books, box office-busting movies — plus memorabilia, theme parks, online communities, and, most recently, a stage play. In fact, we worship the franchise so devotedly that some divinity scholars might compare it to a religion.
That's exactly the premise behind a thought-provoking new podcast from two Harvard scholars, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Vanessa Zoltan, an assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University, and Caspar ter Kuile, a graduate of Harvard’s Divinity School, co-host the show. In it, they analyze the book series chapter by chapter, as if it were a traditional sacred religious text. "We’re trying to talk about the books the way that people talk about religious texts in religious settings," Zoltan explained in an interview with The Huffington Post. "The way that you talk about the Bible in church, the way that you talk about the Torah in temple, the way that you talk about the Quran in mosques." For instance, Harry Potter's themes of generosity and nonviolence echo Christian values. "I think Jesus would really dig the Harry Potter books," Zoltan said.
Now, think about what our Potter obsession could look like in retrospect. It's not crazy to imagine that thousands of years from now, archaeologists or extraterrestrial visitors studying our civilization could view Potter-mania in the same light as Judaism or Hinduism. "I, at minimum, think it would confuse them," Zoltan argued to HuffPo. There aren't ancient Harry Potter temples or scrolls now, "But we have Harry Potter World, which is a church, of sorts," Zoltan said. "[And] you only have one Bible on your shelf but you have seven Harry Potter books on your shelf."
But there's much more to it than the books themselves."The Harry Potter universe has a lot of things that look a lot like a religion," Zoltan continued. "It has rituals. It has sayings. You say, 'mischief managed!' Or, 'Raise a glass to the Boy who Lived!' You have certain arguments; there are these [conventions] where they do all sorts of rituals... The midnight release parties are absolute rituals. There are movie-watching parties. There are all sorts of rituals associated with it. There’s a central text associated with it. I mean, it has a lot of the requirements of being a religion." People have Harry Potter tattoos, for goodness sake. And think about how seriously we theorize about the HP universe. It looks like the Boy Who Lived might just live on forever.