Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: a thought-provoking podcast explores what the boy wizard can tell us about life

Since its emergence 20 years ago, Harry Potter has sparked endless discussion, from casual conversations among friends to formal academic analysis. Potterheads have written countless essays and editorials for Scribbulus on virtually every topic within the Wizarding World, from Voldemort’s soul to “Dumbledorian Ethics.” Harry Potter has also made it onto university syllabi. Professors teach entire courses on the religious themes of J.K. Rowling’s works.

Fans of both HP and Religious Studies have recently become enchanted by Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a weekly podcast hosted by Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile, and produced by Ariana Nedelman. Their podcast is based on a simple premise: “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? What would we learn? How might they change us?…We will read Harry Potter, not just as novels, but as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives.”

The podcast proceeds chronologically through the series, each episode analyzing one chapter with a particular theme in mind (disappointment, desperation, or betrayal, for example). It’s in-depth Harry Potter analysis combined with personal reflection, real-world application, and interpretive techniques that will help you get more out of reading any text. Vanessa and Casper recently appeared in a video for their one-year anniversary, asking for input from fans: “What question would you ask Harry Potter?”

Below, a few highlights from the podcast’s first year:

Commitment: The Boy Who Lived (Book 1, Chapter 1): in the podcast debut, Casper and Vanessa evaluate characters through the lens of commitment. From this angle, the Dursleys aren’t so bad after all; they’re simply committed—to each other, to working hard, and to a life of normalcy. Hagrid serves as a caution against over-commitment. His obvious dedication to baby Harry highlights an admirable commitment to helping the vulnerable and marginalized. Yet it also foreshadows his propensity to make reckless decisions on behalf of creatures like Norbert and Aragog. This episode also introduces Lectio Divina, a centuries-old monastic reading technique that engages with a text on four levels of meaning.

Responsibility: The Whomping Willow (Book 2, Chapter 5): in this episode, Casper and Vanessa unravel the various layers of responsibility surrounding Harry and Ron’s decision to fly Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglia to Hogwarts, which leads them to crash into the Whomping Willow. Topics discussed: the structure of the Hogwarts disciplinary system, the Whomping Willow as a metaphor both for Snape and for the environment, and the heightened responsibilities of people with greater power or influence.

Hospitality: The Leaky Cauldron (Book 3, Chapter 4): this episode explores the different meanings of hospitality and the experiences of being a host or guest. For example, what constitutes good hospitality? What distinctions can we draw between a personal guest and a guest who pays for a service? Does hospitality necessarily come with an expectation of gratitude or something in return? What’s the relationship between hospitality and diplomacy? And finally, does Florean Fortescue offer Harry free ice cream out of kindness, or as a way of benefitting from some celebrity advertising?

If you haven’t yet given this podcast a listen, it’s a great time to get involved and catch up on episodes from the past year. The team will also be performing live events in the United States this summer. Read an interview with them here!

Header image via Pixabay