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Special Feature

How Chestnut Hill College Reflects J.K. Rowling’s Books A Bit More Every Year.

By Brenda Lange


here can one turn to learn about empathy, prejudice, politics, socio-economics, chemistry, physics, mythology, religion and more — all in one place? Maybe surprisingly to some, the series of books about Harry Potter — the young hero in the fictional series by J.K. Rowling — offers just that opportunity. Chestnut Hill College continues to make it easy and fun to explore the themes around this cultural phenomenon. With each passing year, the Harry Potter Academic Conference has attracted increased attention through the quality of the papers presented, its interdisciplinary approach (rare among academic conferences), the topical nature of its themes and the renown of the speakers.

“The conference is integrative, academically rigorous and allows for


community involvement,” explains Patrick McCauley, Ph.D., associate professor of religious studies and the conference co-organizer. “Although the last book was published in 2007, this conference provides a forum for new thought on this thoughtprovoking series.” Karen Wendling, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, is McCauley’s co-organizer. The pair started co-teaching an honors course in 2009, in which students used J.K. Rowling’s texts as the basis for their final analysis, allowing them to focus on the Harry Potter books. In the course, titled “The Emergence of the Hero in the

Epic Voyage,” the quality of the capstone presentations gave the professors the idea of expanding their audience. “We recognized the appeal of the series and were interested in analyzing the books within the plot context,” says Wendling. “We wanted to use the books to improve our students’ critical thinking and discussed an interdisciplinary approach to do this.” In addition to the presentations covering topics in areas ranging from history, political science, philosophy, psychology and the sciences, CHC offers scholarships to high school students who submit winning

Harry Potter Conference Graphic: Kelsey Bolognese

Now in its fifth year, the conference has grown from nine presenters in 2012 to 38 in 2015, and from three hours two days. From a simple venue for students and academics to present their reflections on the major themes in Rowling’s literature, it has become an internationally recognized, interdisciplinary academic conference unlike anything else anywhere.

High school students submit and present papers during the academic conference, making them eligible for awards and scholarships to CHC.

Chestnut Hill Magazine, Spring 2016  
Chestnut Hill Magazine, Spring 2016