When he had sacrificed everything and had nothing left to give, Harry Potter made one last selfless decision: to abandon Death’s restful embrace in the hope that he could still make a difference. This choice was made, as most are, in the recesses of the mind.
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry,” Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore explained to the Boy Who Lived. “But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
This fall, a group of AU students are exploring spiritual reality by delving into the fictional world of Harry Potter. To kick off the new school year, students enrolled in the faith in context course through the School of Theology walked onto Platform 9 ¾ and were sorted into their respective Hogwarts houses.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Faulkner, assistant professor of Christian ministry and the course instructor, says, “There’s nothing wrong with having a story to entertain us, but it can’t stop there.”
Faulkner hopes that bringing the Wizarding World to life will give students an opportunity to explore spiritual reality in ways they might never have imagined.
“Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t real,” he says. “Just because we don’t know that it’s there or recognize it in every given moment doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reality that’s even larger, richer and deeper than our own.
“In class I suggested that maybe the kingdom of God is much like that. We can’t see every aspect of the kingdom, yet for many of us, the kingdom of God is a very present reality. It’s big, rich and deep, and we’re invited to be part of it,” he says.
J.K. Rowling, the author who conjured the fictional world of Harry Potter, was Harvard University’s commencement speaker in 2008. In her speech, Rowling encouraged the graduating class to search themselves for the power to make a difference.
“We do not need magic to transform the world,” she said. “We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have power to imagine better.”
Faulkner remembers Rowling’s powerful words and praises her for her ability to create characters who can teach us that there is real magic in the choices we make.
“Like many of us, Harry doesn’t always make the right choice, but increasingly he makes choices for the sake of others,” says Faulkner. “In that way, Harry teaches me much more about the power of choice than he teaches me about magic.”
An estimated 500 million copies of the Harry Potter series have been sold since they first hit shelves in 1997, and translations now exist in more than 70 different languages. In fact, the Harry Potter series dominated the New York Times Best-Sellers List for so long that a new category was created to ensure that the series didn’t steal the spotlight from other emerging works.
“I want this class to make a difference, because I believe that the Harry Potter story is continuing to make a difference,” says Faulkner. “It’s the best-selling book series in history. We can learn how to better tell our faith story by reading one of the best stories ever written.
Many students enrolled in the faith in context course are thrilled to have the opportunity to revisit some of their favorite stories in a way that will impact their spiritual lives.
Alex Certain, a Hufflepuff and a junior psychology and spiritual formation major, hopes that taking the class will allow him to transform his faith.
“In one of the first class periods we talked about how Harry went from living under a staircase to being one of the most popular wizards at Hogwarts,” says Certain. “I really hope that, like Harry Potter, I can grow in my faith from a small world view to a big, wide world view.”
Micah Bryan, a Slytherin and a junior psychology major, is fascinated by the prospect of exploring the real-life implications of topics presented in the Harry Potter series.
“The most surprising thing to me is that we can take something that’s been so hotly debated and see how some of its symbols and themes can directly affect our lives,” she says.
Morgan Binkerd, a Ravenclaw and a junior English major, is excited to be taking a religion course that is more interactive than traditional ones.
“Because people are choosing to talk about their own lives, it’s more personal than a normal religion course,” says Binkerd. “I like that. That’s what I want my faith to look like.”
Erin Smith, a proud Hufflepuff and a junior public relations major, enjoys exploring the variety in perspectives brought to the class by the other students.
“I really like hearing other students’ perspectives on how they interpret Harry Potter in their own faith lives,” she says.
Students enrolled in the faith in context course will continue to experience powerful moments from the Harry Potter series throughout the semester. There will be a recreation of the three Triwizard Tournament tasks and an end-of-term feast, among other things. All this with the goal of learning more about reality from one of the greatest fictional stories—after all this time, always.