For University of Wyoming students, summer classes are generally a way to catch up on graduation requirements and keep busy between semesters. The courses offered throughout the summer are usually lower-level, required classes such as Public Speaking or American Government.
But students enrolling this summer can fill their schedules with something a little different: “Harry Potter and Philosophy,” a course which will help students reexamine the popular young adult series by J.K. Rowling with an eye toward metaphysics, ethics and other philosophical concepts.
The “Harry Potter” series follows a young orphan boy with magical powers through seven years of wizarding school. As the series progresses, Harry grows older, his world grows scarier and more violent and the books grow darker. “Harry Potter” is now the best-selling book series of all time, having sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, according to Forbes.
Amanda Julian, a graduate of UW and the course’s instructor, said the series about the boy-who-lived readily lent itself to serious philosophical investigation.
“The importance of these topics is not limited to the academic study of philosophy,” she said. “These topics are important as they apply to the political climate that surrounds us and our ethical and religious beliefs.”
The book’s world of animagi — characters who can turn into animals at all — and horcruxes — slivers of the soul preserved outside the body — invite discussions of identity and the soul. The existence of prophesies can lead to discussion of destiny, choice and free will, Julian said.
Serious themes running throughout the series — such as discrimination, community and patriotism — are all perfectly suited to start conversations in the study of ethics, Julian said. The enslavement of house elves, for example, can be tied easily to discussions about applied ethics.
The “Harry Potter” books also put a strong emphasis on love and loyalty — two more topics with solid grounding in moral philosophy.
The books have a combined total of more than 4,000 pages, according to www.wordcounter.net. Given the wide range of possible topics, Julian said, the course will have to focus on some to the exclusion of others.
“Each subtopic of course could be a class on its own,” she said. “So, covering all or only some of the topics and to what depth is dependent on the interest of the students in class.”
Julian said that while she enjoyed reading the books as a child, as millions of others did, she came to a greater appreciation of the series now that she can understand the depth of the writing.
“I myself am a millennial and I grew up reading the books and watching the movies — and of course wearing my Gryffindor robe and waving my light-up Elder Wand,” she said. “Interestingly enough, the series is something I have grown to love even more as an adult.”
Julian said she hopes her course makes the study of philosophy more accessible for students who might not have thought much about it previously.
“Philosophy is a study that the general public does not seem to know much about,” she said. “The field is incredibly diverse, applying to far more than what most people attribute to it.”
Emily Lescure said she enrolled in the class because it would be a good way to complete her philosophy minor.
“I know she’s a great and super insightful teacher and philosopher,” she said. “And I’m obsessed with Harry Potter, so it all fit in very perfectly.”
Lescure said she took a Philosophy of South Park class at UW in 2016 and it inspired her to try a similarly themed course this year.
“I imagine (Julian) is probably going to do the same and give me some readings and information I haven’t heard yet in any of my philosophy classes,” Lescure said. “That’s what I’m hoping for at least.”
As fun as the class will be, Julian said, students hoping to enroll should be prepared to take the subject matter seriously.
“This is not a silly course with a trivial discussion of wizards,” she said. “I want to convey that this course allows for the discussion of deep and significant topics … This course allows me to combine two of my passions, philosophy and Harry Potter, and I am very excited to share and discuss these topics with other interested and curious minds.”