November 30th, 2010 | Culture

Yale professor talks ‘holy’ Harry Potter

Harry Potter might have a place in heaven — at least according to one Yale professor. Yale Professor Danielle Tumminio ’03 DIV ’06, a lecturer in religion and literature who taught a seminar on the Harry Potter series last year, believes there is more to the beloved books than the appeal of witchcraft and wizardry: something holier.

In her residential college seminar, titled “Christian Theology and Harry Potter,” and also in her new book — “God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy in an Ivy League Classroom,” which is set to be released on Dec. 15 — she explores the parallels between Harry’s behavior and Christian faith. The News spoke with Tumminio last week about her soon-to-be published book, her class at Yale, and her love of Luna Lovegood.

Danielle Tumminio '03 DIV '06 has taught courses on
Danielle Tumminio '03 DIV '06 has taught courses on "Harry Potter" since 2008.

Q How did you decide to write this book?

A I felt strongly that it was important to have a voice on the Harry Potter series that offered an analysis of the Christian dimensions of the book that extended beyond a discussion of whether or not the books were heretical because characters were witches and wizards.

Q What are some of the parallels you see between Harry Potter and religion?

A Why God allows evil, for example, is a theme that gets a lot of attention in Christian thought, and the reason for evil and how one can respond to evil is the overriding theme in the Harry Potter books. Sacrifice, particularly Jesus’, also is a prominent theme in Christian thought, just as the nature of sacrifice becomes pivotal in the lives of characters like Dumbledore, Harry, Lily Potter and Snape. These figures, when considered side-by-side with writings on Jesus, offer a great opportunity for students to consider exactly what is powerful about sacrifice or what sacrifice accomplishes.

Q Was the book a product of the class you taught at Yale?

A Absolutely! This book would be completely different if I had never taught the course. The book is structured very similarly to a class session, where we first discuss a theological idea and then look to how that idea appears, or does not appear, in the Harry Potter series.

Q How does the book differ from the material you taught in the class?

A I would say that one major difference between the class and book is that my style of writing for this book is much more accessible than the theological books or articles that students read in the course.

Q How did students react to the class — were all of your students interested in religion?

A I know that for many of them, religion was not the initial draw to the class. But I told them on the first day, and again on the last, that while Harry Potter may have drawn them to the course, I hope theology keeps them in the classroom. Regardless of their beliefs, questions about one’s worldview — how to understand death, relationships and love, for instance — are deeply important. Additionally, the first group of students I taught also made a cake in the shape of a Snitch the last day of class and gave me a card that talked about how formative the class was for them. That was an incredibly meaningful experience for me — absolutely beyond words. I still have the card as a memory of that day.

Q Is the class still offered?

A I taught the class in the spring of 2008 and again in the spring of 2009. Since the College Seminar program only allows courses to be taught for two years in a row before taking a year off, I did not teach the course in 2010.

Q Who is your favorite character in Harry Potter, and why?

A Luna Lovegood! She’s charming, loyal to her friends, intelligent and always open to new possibilities. She has a light spirit and faith that I find incredibly endearing as well. At the end of the fifth book, after Sirius dies, she has this wonderful way of telling Harry that she believes love and relationships are so strong that they transcend death.

Q How were you introduced to Harry Potter, and were you a fan immediately?

A My mother recommended the books to me pretty early on, but I was still at an age where I didn’t always recognize my mother’s wisdom, so it wasn’t until a friend recommended them to me that I began reading. I loved the series from that point on.

Q What is your favorite aspect of the Harry Potter series?

A I’m amazed by JK Rowling’s ability to create a world that is so inviting to the reader, and every time I read the books, I fall more and more in love with them.