The Harry Potter wizardry books, with more than 400 million copies sold worldwide, have been hailed by author Stephen King as “one for the ages” and by USA Today as a “spellbinding saga.”
Now, two Harvard Divinity School graduates are running a podcast that treats the books by J.K. Rowling as if they were holy.
As in the Bible.
At the Huffington Post, Sara Boboltz explained, “You’d be forgiven for assuming the team behind the podcast ‘Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,’ in which two hosts dissect J.K. Rowling’s classic series as if it were the Torah or the Bible, were raving tinfoil-hat superfans.”
Christine Emba at the Washington Post noted each episode of the program has hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kiule “reread a chapter of the series … and analyze the characters’ struggles and motivations, picking out moral teachings along the way.”
The podcast is well into season four, and Zoltan and ter Kuile explain they explore the fantasy books “as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives.”
“Just as Christians read the Bible, Jews the Torah and Muslims read the Quran, we are embarking on a 199-episode journey (one chapter an episode, to be released weekly, to glean what wisdom and meaning we can make from J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels.”
They elaborate on their beliefs:
This project is more than a book club or a fan-podcast. By treating Harry Potter as sacred, we mean three things:
Trusting the text: We practice the belief that the text is not “just entertainment,” but if taken seriously, can give us generous rewards. Trusting the text doesn’t mean we understand the text to be perfect – either in construction on moral teaching – but that it is worthy of our attention and contemplation. A guiding principle is that the more time we give to the text the more blessings it has to give us.
Rigor and ritual: By reading the text slowly, repeatedly and with concentrated attention, our effort becomes a key part of what makes the book sacred. The text in and of itself is not sacred, but is made so through our rigorous engagement. Particularly by rigorously engaging in ritual reading, we believe we can glean wisdom from its pages.
Reading it in community: Scholars of religion explain that what makes a text sacred is not the text itself, but the community of readers that proclaim it as such. The same applies for us. We started reading Harry Potter in community in Cambridge, Massachusetts in September 2015 and are excited to be expanding that community through this podcast!
The hosts also advertise their “spiritual practices” and offer resources, including Lectio Divina, Havruta, Ignatian Spirituality and Floralegium.
Emba wrote that the show hosts are “aware that ‘Harry Potter’ is not, in fact, a sacred text.”
“Their tagline, thankfully, is ‘reading something we love as if it were sacred,'” she said.
“While they adore the boy wizard anthology, the team approaches their subject matter with reasoned academic discipline like the Harvard Divinity School members and graduates they are.”
Zoltan is an “assistant humanist chaplain” at Harvard and ter Kuile a “minister-in-training for non-religious people.”
Zoltan said the “same things are in these books as are in the traditional sacred texts.”
She told the Huffington Post: “We’re trying to talk about the books the way that people talk about religious texts in religious settings. 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. And authorial intent is not the way that those things get discussed in those spaces.”
The host said the books have “very traditional Christian values like generosity and love and nonviolence.”