Yale Divinity Course Examines Theology in Harry Potter

Most people agree that the wildly popular Harry Potter series has a religious following. But do the stories about a fictional boy wizard contain religion in them?

Danielle Tumminio, a Yale Divinity School graduate student who instructs a course called "Christian Theology and Harry Potter" at Yale would say, "Yes."

Her course uses all seven Potter books to examine Christian themes such as sin, evil and resurrection, a CNN feature story recently reported.

She said she struggled to design the course in a way where it wouldn't be "misconstrued" or "come across as someone trying to indoctrinate my students," according to CNN.

"I also wanted to make it clear that it was a critical endeavor, and that it wasn't ... that you'd sit around all day talking about how great Luna Lovegood was," said Tumminio, who has an academic background in literature and theology.

The resurrection theme is supposedly explored in J.K. Rowling's seventh installment, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." (Spoiler warning: Read no further if you don't want to find out what happens.) By the end of the book, Harry becomes the "Master of Death" and "resurrects" from the dead the spirits of his parents, his godfather, Sirius Black and his old teacher Remus Lupin.

Cat Terrell, a student in Yale's Harry Potter course, told CNN that "the lens of the Harry Potter books actually makes theology ... easier to understand."

"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."

Outside of Yale, a minority group of Christians have also attempted to justify "Pottermania."

John Granger, author of "Looking for God in Harry Potter," and John Killinger, author of "God, the Devil and Harry Potter," both argue in their books that the J.K. Rowling's series contains a Christian allegory for the fight between good and evil.

And elsewhere, colleges such as Georgetown University, Liberty University, Pepperdine University and Stanford University are offering courses that examine the series from a literary or historical perspective, according to CNN.

The trend to offer Potter-themed courses was embraced by some readers and strongly rejected by others, according to comments posted in response to the article.

One reader by the name of "Blue Sky" wrote, "I think we should steadfastly resist any attempt to 'Christianize' Harry Potter."

Another by the name of "Stan" said it's a "sad state of affairs when Harry Potter is being 'studied' in colleges and universities throughout the USA."

"No wonder the USA is declining in so many areas and is no longer the moral or technology leader," the reader wrote.

The majority of Christians, especially those in the evangelical community, remain strongly opposed to the book, which they say promotes witchcraft, the occult and defiance against authority to children.

A number of prominent Christian leaders, from family guru James Dobson to the pope, have publicly denounced the series. They have either urged a boycott on the books or strongly advised parents to exercise caution when letting their children read the books.

Matthew Slick, the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, which reports on cults and other religious movements, said in a review that he found "no Christian principles at all" after reading the books.

Unlike some who have drawn parallels between Christian themes in C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" series and J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Slick argued that the books taught anti-biblical principles.

In "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," he said that the "failures of the occult side were demonstrated against the power of grace, love, and truth of God, though done through metaphor," where as the Potter books don't.

He added that the books do not condemn lying and deception, justifying the vices as a long as they meet the ends of the characters.

Richard Albanes, author of "Harry Potter, Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings: What You Need to Know About Fantasy Books and Movies," also rejected the comparisons drawn between works of Christian authors like C.S. Lewis and "Harry Potter."

"There is this whole movement within Christianity where people are trying to say that the Harry Potter books are Christian novels. And that is just untrue," he told Christian Broadcasting Network in a past interview.

Albanes said that while kids cannot replicate the magic in Lewis and Tolkien books, they can "really copy" the witchcraft that appears in the Rowling's books.

"There is this crossover where the Wiccans know it, the occultists know, the practitioners of all these things know it, and they are using that curiosity that kids have for all of this stuff now through Harry Potter to attract readers to their real world how-to manuals. I think many parents just don't get that. They don't understand," he said.

He further advised readers, especially parents, to use discernment in choosing fantasy novels.

"We need to not just cut everything out but to take care to look at what is good fantasy and what is bad fantasy."

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