Students delve into the theology of Harry Potter

Theology of Harry Potter
Photo courtesy Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal

Briar Cliff University theology instructor Gil Ridenour, upper left, mixes a batch of butterbeer during a "Potterluck" as part of his course on the theology of Harry Potter.

SIOUX CITY | Dressed as their favorite Harry Potter characters, students at Briar Cliff University snacked on cauldron cakes, Bertie Botts and butterbeer, the non-alcoholic kind, of course.

The “Potterluck” was a smashing success.

Earlier in the semester, they ran around a soccer field with broom sticks between their legs, trying to throw sports balls through hula hoops propped up on sticks in a lively game of quidditch.

Beyond the food and fun inspired by J.K. Rowling’s fictional world, these 10 students enrolled in “The Theology of Harry Potter” are digging in to some deep subjects, using a cultural icon to spark theological conversations.

Gil Ridenour, instructor of theology and associate campus minister, embraced the endearing tale as a teaching tool.

“This is a generation that’s grown up with Harry,” he said. “If we dig a little deeper, it makes the story better, and we can analyze it in different ways.”

Required reading materials for the course include the last three novels of the seven-book series and excerpts from the Rev. Danielle Tumminio’s book “God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in Ivy League Classroom.”

Ridenour insists the books are much better than movies, but that’s a topic for discussion at the end of the semester. Not shying away from tough topics, they’ll also examine if Harry Potter’s adventures with his friends at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is harmful to society, Christian belief and young people in particular.

At Briar Cliff, the elective attracted the attention of Harry Potter fans like Kate Swanson and Anne Kallsen, both seniors.

“I’m a Harry Potter nerd,” Swanson said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to have a fun theology class. It’s a literature class, too.”

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