These days, you don't have to be a wizard to have Harry Potter in your classroom. In colleges and universities across the U.S., Potter-themed courses are regularly offered -- and no, we're not talking about Defense Against the Dark Arts 101 or Care of Magical Creatures Lab (too bad!) -- but classes based on J.K. Rowling's book series and the movies they spawned.
In fact, so many institutions of higher learning have used Potter in their curricula, it's hard to keep track at this point. These courses are offered not just by English departments, but in medieval studies, theology and physics, among other fields.
While many schools use Harry as a way to introduce students to subjects they might otherwise not pursue, these are not necessarily easy-A classes. By and large, they are, however, extremely popular, with fierce competition for limited seats. Naturally, the professors who originate the classes tend to be imaginative types, not unlike certain Hogwarts instructors. (And yes, at least one has worn wizard robes while teaching.)
In anticipation of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1,' opening next Friday, Moviefone has tracked down a sampling of recently taught Potter-related courses.
THE COURSE: 'Battling Against Voldemort'
THE COLLEGE: Swarthmore (Swarthmore, PA)
A couple of years ago, Professor Melinda Finberg taught this popular freshman seminar, as an introduction to literary theory. According to the course description, the class aimed to "understand why we are so driven to invent stories about battling inhuman powers to learn what it means to be human," by analyzing the Potter books. Students discussed the use of curses and Harry's not-necessarily-objective view of the world, among other things.
THE COURSE: 'Finding Your Patronus'
THE COLLEGE: Oregon State (Corvallis, OR)
Dean of Student Life Mamta Accapadi came up with this inspirational-sounding class, part of a series designed to help freshmen get oriented to campus life. She thinks the Potter saga is great for teaching students how to deal with the various instructors they'll encounter, just as Hogwarts students navigated a wide (and scary) range of professorial personalities. (Hopefully she'll warn them about any Snape-like types lurking at OSU.)
THE COURSE: 'Christian Theology and Harry Potter'
THE COLLEGE: Yale (New Haven, CT)
One of the most talked-about Potter university courses was conceived and taught by Yale Divinity School grad student Danielle Tumminio. While the class, which explored Christian themes such as sin, evil and resurrection in the Potter series, was not intended to counter those who believe the books and movies are 'anti-Christian,' it undoubtedly provided a well-informed argument to that view.
THE COURSE: 'Harry Potter's Library'
THE COLLEGE: Kansas State (Manhattan, KS)
Professor Philip Nel's English class, last taught in fall 2009, seems pretty rigorous, with several required texts (including 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' and 'The Golden Compass') in addition to the Potter books. Per the course description, "This class will examine the Harry Potter phenomenon by reading the novels themselves and the works of Rowling's antecedents, influences and contemporaries ... I expect discussion, debate, and exchanges of ideas." Nel, who authored 'J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide,' is obviously a Potter scholar who knows his pensieve from his polyjuice.
THE COURSE: 'Knights of Old and Harry Potter'
THE COLLEGE: Georgetown (Washington, DC)
This very popular course, taught by Professor Carol Dover through the school's Medieval Studies Program, "explores the medievalism" of the Potter novels by comparing them to English, French and German medieval literature. As the course description reads, "They are all narratives about growing up and finding one's identity: a complex, mysterious, and sometimes arduous process that the hero/heroine experiences as a magical world where the natural laws governing human existence are suspended, the unexpected is bound to occur, and marvels are reserved for the chosen few."
THE COURSE: 'The Science of Harry Potter'
THE COLLEGE: Frostburg State (Frostburg, MD)
One of the more intriguing HP-themed classes, this honors seminar was inaugurated in 2003 by Professor George Plitnik, who used the Potter series to teach students about basic physics and cutting-edge scientific research. Various problems were explored, such as apparating using Einstein's Theory of Relativity, levitating using diamagnetism or electromagnetic repulsion force, and whether antigravity research can produce an actual flying broomstick. Adding to the fun was Plitnik's habit of dressing in wizard garb, as a tribute to Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Now that's commitment.
THE COURSE: 'Harry Potter: Mystery and English Comedy'
THE COLLEGE: Ohio State (Columbus, OH)
In this Special Topics English class, taught in 2008 by Susie Kneedler, students read four HP novels, "looking at how solutions to their mysteries overturn first impressions." The class also compared each plot to those of popular English TV comedies, and contrasted the original British books with the American versions, as well as to the film adaptations. Meanwhile, Ohio State further celebrates Potter with its current exhibit at the Marion Campus Library, 'The Science, Magic, and Medicine of Harry Potter's World,' which runs through Dec. 11. The opening reception, which took place on Halloween, featured movie screenings, a Hogwarts workshop, and an edible book contest(!).
THE COURSE: 'Six Degrees of Harry Potter'
THE COLLEGE: St. Catherine (St. Paul, MN)
This literature class taught by Professor Cecilia Konchar Farr is one of the most sought-after courses on campus. Students read (or re-read, in most cases) all seven books in addition to other materials, followed by class and group discussions. For a final project students may choose to write a research paper or create a Hogwarts character for a computer game, which sounds like a suspiciously easy choice to us!
THE COURSE: 'Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion'
THE COLLEGE: Durham (Durham, England)
Interestingly, Potter college classes are more prevalent in the U.S. than in England, which is, after all, the home of Rowling and the series itself. Durham University, however, is now offering what's thought to be the first HP-themed course in the UK, which uses the series to examine prejudice, citizenship and bullying in modern society as part of a BA degree in education studies. Well done.
Have you taken a Harry Potter-themed college class? If so, tell us about your experience.