Sunday, November 06, 2016

Podcast Rec: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

This is my second year teaching a class which is designed for students who are new to the university (in my case, all freshpeople). We focus on connecting these students to the university and helping them achieve their goals.  I spend a lot of time focusing on non-academic goals because my philosophy is that part of college is becoming a well-rounded person, not just one who can study (although I do spend a class period on teaching them how to study because...they don't know how to).  I have real regrets about how many hours I spent in the library when I was a college student and I don't want my students to have to deal with those feelings later on in their lives,so I emphasize extra and co-curricular events and activities.


I have the students do an exercise in which we talk about the seven dimensions of wellness, an exercise that is recommended by the people who organize this first year program. I give them a pie chart and have them shade in their circles with how full they think the different areas are in their own lives. The point is that they can then reevaluate how they spend their time to sort of emphasize areas they are weak in or even out the areas. Every time I fill out my wellness circle, there's a big glaring gap in my wellness.
That gap is in my spirituality. I was raised in a non-religious household and I sort of hold a dim view of religion.  I haven't really done much about this, beyond saying that I kind of want to be a good person and I do feel like this a legitimate issue in my life. There are huge gaps in my knowledge about religions because I've always just sort of rolled my eyes at the whole thing.  I immediately judge when people talk about religion as important in their lives. But I kind of don't like this aspect of myself and when I filled out that chart this year, I knew I need to do something.

For me, this something has been listening to the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.  Hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile read through one chapter of a Harry Potter novel a week (they're only on the beginning of the second book, so you can catch up if you start now!) using a particular lens, like friendship or goals or white privilege.  Then they use a religious practice to examine the text as if it were a sacred document, which to many of us, it is.  Zoltan and ter Kuile have been to divinity school, but they call themselves "humanist chaplains," which doesn't actually mean anything to me except that, as a non-religious person, I feel like I learn a lot about religion when they talk, but I don't feel proselytized to.

Plus, they have insightful things to say about the book and I often leave their podcast episodes rethinking about scenes I have read dozens of times at this point in my life with fresh thoughts and new opinions.  For example, in the scene in the first book when Hermione is caught in the bathroom with the troll and she's doing nothing because she's freaked the fuck out, Ron is the one who saves the day with a Leviosa spell that Hermione had taught him, so she did play a part in saving herself.  I had always just thought of Hermione as useless in that scene and it had always bothered me since I always had thought of J.K. Rowling as great about having strong female characters.  Now I'm no longer as annoyed by that scene.

As if that's not enough of a reason to listen to this podcast, Zoltan and ter Kuile are just likeable people.  Their teasing dynamic about who will win the 30-second recap and whose friendship is more valuable is delightful.  They also seem like genuinely nice people who look at things from a kinder, gentler lens than I do myself.  At the end of each episode, they give a blessing to one of the characters in the chapter (and I find this bit NOT ANNOYING, but insightful!) and in one chapter Zoltan blessed Aunt Margie because Aunt Margie knows what she likes and she doesn't like children and she's strong enough to say so and we could all learn a lesson from that. So, in one instant I went from slagging on Aunt Margie because Harry does to thinking about the character from a sympathetic, feminist angle.

In these dark days of a long national nightmare that I hope will end peacefully by Tuesday night, this podcast is smart breath of fresh air for me.  Please listen to it.

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