Theology and ‘The Boy Who Lived’

Danielle Tumminio describes her course “Christian Theology and Harry Potter.”

Over the years I’ve offered the Christian Theology and Harry Potter class, students consistently rank it a favorite, regardless of their faith tradition. This may be because my students treasure any excuse to re-read their favorite saga, but my sense is that the real reason for the course’s success runs deeper than that: The subjects theology tackles — what the purpose of evil is, whether we can maintain relationships beyond the grave, what forgiveness looks like — are the ones that keep our minds racing at 2 a.m., when we’re wrapped in warm blankets and sipping hot milk for comfort. Yet without a vocabulary — Christian or otherwise — to express those questions, it’s hard to find lasting resolution or peace. That’s why I tell my students that I know Harry Potter brought them to the class, but I hope that theology keeps them there, because questions about how much we love our neighbor or how much we embrace diversity are worth some curiosity, whether one is planning to become an elementary school teacher or a cardiologist. In other words, while I don’t expect or encourage my students to embrace the Christian faith, I do ask them to consider the kinds of questions that faith demands.

At the end of the first year that I taught the Christian theology and Harry Potter course, one of my sophomores asked if she could speak with me. She came from a secular background, a home in which religion was a banned topic. “Your class gave me a way to talk about questions of ultimate meaning,” she said. “I never had that before.”

I left smiling that day. It was the highest compliment she could have offered.

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