Replacing Wands with Quills: A Harry Potter Symposium for Muggle Scholars

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School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication, James Madison University, November 10-12, 2011
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Proposal deadline: May 15, 2011

"The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter. It's not always clear why" points out famous wandmaker Mr. Ollivander. Likewise we could say that Harry Potter chooses the scholar, and it is not always clear why.
For the first "Harry Potter Symposium for Muggle Scholars" at James Madison University we invite young and wizened scholars of all ages and from all disciplines to join us in exploring, examining, and explaining our attraction to all things HP. After all, for us muggle scholars, magic happens when we make knowledge and meaning.

Despite the early warnings from literary and cultural critics—Harold Bloom and A.S. Byatt for instance—scholarly engagement with Harry Potter has not been a deatheater's threat for academics after all. On the contrary, for more than twelve years HP scholarship has continued to thrive internationally in a broad range of academic disciplines. Like wizards and witches who are not sure why their wands chose them, scholars are often not sure exactly what sparked their interest in all things HP. Yet, that has not prevented Law, Philosophy, and Political Science to adopt Harry Potter—the books, the movies, the phenomenon—just as enthusiastically as Education, Library Science, and Literary Study as a engaging and exciting academic subject.

We encourage proposals for presentations from all academic and professional disciplines in, but not limited to, the following areas:

• In cultural studies, how might we use Harry Potter to understand and initiate discussion about race, gender, class, and sexual identities? How might the Harry Potter series inform current discussions about immigration, ethnicity, and nationality?

• In media and communication studies, what are the broad cultural effects of the Harry Potter books? What role does the mass media have in shaping the influence of the Harry Potter phenomenon (e.g., Warner Bros. motion pictures)? What factors contribute to the prevalence of Harry Potter fan culture?

• In literature studies, how do scholars categorize the Harry Potter series in terms of genre, archetypal characters, mythological symbolism and themes? Is Harry Potter the mythic hero or something else entirely?

• In rhetoric and writing studies, how can the Harry Potter books as well as the secondary literature on the books, films, marketing phenomenon inform the teaching of rhetorical theory and practice?

• In religious studies, how might the Harry Potter books provide a context for discussing spiritual ideologies, constructions of good and evil, and the concept of death. How have various religious groups responded to the Harry Potter series, particularly in the context of and compared with other fantasy fiction writers such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien?

• In psychology and medical studies, how might we use Harry Potter in therapy, recovery, and other patient-practitioner interactions? How do the Harry Potter books inform discussions of modern medical procedures, and treatment methods?

• In education studies, what are the uses of Harry Potter in primary and secondary curricula? Higher Education? How have calls to ban the Harry Potter series from school libraries contributed to discussions about censorship?

• In philosophy and legal studies, how does the Harry Potter series provide a way to explore concepts of ethics, morality, social justice, systems of governance and law-making? How does the wide-spread popularity of the series create concern in areas related to intellectual property rights?

• In terms of general academic research, how might we use discussions of Harry Potter as ways to connect scholars in different fields and to others beyond the academic community?

With the theme of the symposium--Wands to Quills--we hope to see proposals for a wide range of presentations that will make for an exciting, inspiring, and interactive symposium. While skeptics insist that with the conclusion of the book series in 2007 and the movie series this summer surely everything relevant has been said about Harry Potter, we will gather to prove that this is far from the case.

Please send proposals (no more than 250 words) to The deadline for proposals is May 15, 2011 and notifications of acceptance will be sent out via e-mail by mid-June.