A podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” uses passages from the novels to discuss spiritual issues, much like Christians do with the Bible. The podcast has a big following and the two Harvard Divinity School graduates behind it have taken their act on the road, attracting hundreds of devotees to their presentations and Potter studies, as well as a church-like service they hold every week in Harvard Square.
But, ironically, the pair are skeptical about their own project. They do not think Harry Potter can hold people accountable the way Scripture can. And they do not think book-club-like gatherings can provide a spiritual community on a par with the church.
It sounds like the pair sought to use the Harry Potter books as some kind of outreach, but the effort has taken on a life of its own.
Again we see how non-religious enterprises take on religious form. The Harry Potter books are used like Scripture. A testimony from one of the Potterites says how he feels “born again,” etc.
From Julie Zauzmer and Michelle Boorstein, ‘Harry Potter and the Sacred Text’ podcast draws non-believers who find meaning in magical fiction – The Washington Post:
Mark Kennedy grew up a Catholic, and a Harry Potter fanatic. Only one stuck.
“I considered myself a non-spiritual person,” he said. He thought he was done with religion. And then he stumbled on the podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.”
The podcast told him that the Harry Potter series — the books that he always turned to for solace when he was angry or stressed or in need of an escape — could be a source of spiritual sustenance.“I feel like I’m born again,” he said.
On Tuesday night, Kennedy came to an event space at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in the District with hundreds of fellow fans of the podcast, who have found a surprising spirituality in the magical fiction series, which turns 20 years old this year.
Hosted by Harvard Divinity School graduates Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan, the podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” became the number-two podcast in America on iTunes soon after it debuted last summer. It has inspired face-to-face Potter text reading groups, akin to Bible study more than book club, in cities across the country. In Harvard Square, ter Kuile and Zoltan host a weekly church-like service for the secular focused on a Potter text’s meaning.
In the episode they taped at Sixth & I, they used one chapter of the third Harry Potter book as a vehicle for discussing the topics of trust, betrayal, love and prejudice (against werewolves).
Touring the country this summer, the podcasters have been met night after night by adoring, mostly millennial crowds who want to soak up their secular meaning-making. For the growing slice of Americans who label themselves “spiritual but not religious,” Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan are kind of pop stars.
The irony is, the pair are skeptical about secularism.
“It doesn’t speak to people’s hearts and souls,” Zoltan said during a recent interview. “I get that people get connection and meaning from Soul Cycle, but will [those people] visit you when your mom is dying?”
Zoltan and ter Kuile are complicated evangelists for their own cause. Even as their following grows, they are still pondering some big questions: Can non-traditional types of meaning-making build community? Can texts that are deeply moving to readers truly hold them to account in the way Scripture has among the God-fearing?