We treat texts as sacred to learn to treat each other as sacred.
Harry Potter and the Sacred Text grew out of a real-life practice begun by Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan. In September 2015, at a small community center affiliated with Harvard University, they developed a class called “Harry Potter as a Sacred Text.” Using the sacred reading practices they had studied at Harvard Divinity School, Vanessa and Casper would put the text of Harry Potter in conversation with the lives of the attendees and the world around them. Every Wednesday night, 30-60 people would gather for two hours to participate, laughing through chapter recaps (complete with sound effects), working in small groups to closely examine the text, and, over time, growing into a tight-knit community that celebrated birthdays and holidays together.
Within months, Vanessa and Casper were getting emails from all over the world asking if people could join their class remotely. They were at a loss trying to figure out how to share the experience until their mentor, Professor Matthew Potts, suggested that they try turning their class into a podcast. After meeting Ariana Nedelman through a mutual friend, Casper impulsively asked her to become their producer– to Vanessa’s initial chagrin but eventual lasting delight. In May of 2016, after raising $3,000 in seed money through a crowd-funding campaign, the trio released their first episode, examining Ch. 1 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone through the theme of Commitment. They thought they would do one season of the show; a proof of concept that you can treat secular things as if they are sacred. But in August of 2016, before they wrapped up their series on book one, they were put on the iTunes homepage, and their popularity exploded.
With tens of thousands of listeners tuning in, the project grew and changed. Since then Casper, Vanessa, and Ariana have traveled all over the United States doing live shows. They have spoken at conferences like the American Academy of Religion and LeakyCon. They have given talks at churches, synagogues, Divinity schools and libraries. After completing their sacred reading journey with all seven Harry Potter books, Casper stepped back to pursue other projects. Vanessa launched our second reading of the series with Professor Matt Potts, who went from mentor to podcast co-host, and AJ Jaramaz as the show’s producer. With this new team, the podcast has set out to re-examine the whole Harry Potter series again from the beginning with even more rigor, demonstrating that loving a text responsibly means acknowledging the places where it falls short. Working with others in the Harry Potter fandom like Jackson Bird and Jolie Doggett, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text strives to counter JK Rowling’s transphobia and build a community that is anti-racist, supportive of gender diversity, safe for vulnerable people of all kinds, and actively working towards creating a more just world. And the Cambridge, MA group of Harry Potter & the Sacred Text is still meeting on Wednesday nights.
If you want to know about our journey in greater detail, check out our timeline.