Harry Potter may not be divinely inspired, but for a group of Harvard students and Cambridge residents, that has not stopped them from treating the work like the bible.
The group has been meeting since September of 2015, and has attracted a mix of locals and students who proudly identify as “nerds.” One of the group’s organizers, Divinity student Ariana N. Nedelman, said Harry Potter’s strong following made the book well-suited as a centerpiece for discussion.
“The fan community surrounding Harry Potter is uniquely supporting and loving, and brings their lives into the text,” Nedelman said. “So there was already a potential for this kind of work in the way that people were relating to the book that just needed to be tapped.”
Group attendance, which can reach as high as 70 some weeks, includes some students but mostly is made up of local residents. However, those Harvard students that do attend said they find it a welcome break from their routines on campus.
“The makeup of the class is really interesting and you get into conversations with people in a much larger age range than what you would find at Harvard,” said Francesca E. Childs ’16, who frequently went to discussions last year.
While the group started solely as a forum for local discussion, organizers said they received messages from across the world expressing interest in the topic. Just a few weeks after their launch, organizers began considering a podcast to make the group’s discussions more widely accessible.
“We kept getting emails from people internationally saying they wish they could come to the class,” group organizer and Assistant Chaplain Vanessa M. Zoltan ’17 said. “After only half a dozen classes, we had the idea to try to do a podcast.”
Indeed, eight months after the group first met, the podcast launched with its first episode “The Boy Who Lived,” which was downloaded more than 150,000 times. While season 2, based on the series’ second book “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” is set to begin producing in late October, the group is still meeting every Wednesday evening.
The podcast seasons are broken down by book, and the episodes each focus on a particular chapter. The discussions each week use the lens of a different religious tradition to search for character lessons.
Sarah J. Chandonnet, the Humanist Hub’s program director, said the discussions make “you wonder in your life what’s sacred and why you consider it as such.”