A Conference for Muggles

The academy seems to have finally discovered Harry Potter. And I’m not talking about any of those embarrassing incidents where my fellow academics release ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘field-defining’ monographs which unwittingly reiterate ideas Professor Granger wrote ten years ago. My news today is much more par for the academic course.

The School of  Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication, James Madison University, is hosting ‘Replacing Wands with Quills: A Harry Potter Symposium for Muggle Scholars,’ a two-day conference in November. They’ve invited proposals from scholars and enthusiasts from all disciplines and levels. Their intention seems to be to prove that academic readers care about Harry and his friend just as much as the next reader, and that no one really cares what A. S. Byatt said about the series anymore.

The deadline for proposals is 15 May, so think fast. The academy is inviting us in–is that sort of like asking Fred and George to work in a research library? Hopefully this conference, like the one in Manhattan, will help deluminate the wonderful world of Potter Studies. As the CFP itself says: ‘After all, for us muggle scholars, magic happens when we make knowledge and meaning.’

You can read the call-for-papers below the jump, or at this website.

Replacing Wands with Quills: A Harry Potter Symposium for Muggle Scholars
School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication, James Madison University, November 10-12, 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 gumnioec@jmu.edu. The deadline for proposals is May 15, 2011 and notifications of acceptance will be sent out via e-mail by mid-June.

Questions, comments, queries, and presentation ideas always welcome.


  1. Louise Freeman says

    Woo-hoo! Scholarly HP conference within a stones throw of my college? I’m in!

  2. Carrie-Ann Biondi says

    Woo-hoo, indeed! Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Prof. Pazdziora. What a merry Autumn it shall be!

  3. If Professors Freeman and Baird-Hardy are going — and, really, for these ladies JMU is relatively close to home, no? — I may apply for a speaking slot. Any chance of your jumping the pond, Prof. Pazdziora? Maybe the sponsors would provide a HogPro booth if we all showed up.

  4. @ John— I’ve been meaning to email you about that, actually, and will do so presently. jp

  5. Elizabeth says

    Me too, Louise! (Though I’ll need to throw that stone a little further) Now just to narrow down my possibilites for proposals….

  6. Is there a fee to attend and listen at the feet of the presenters? I can’t tell from the website and have not gone to one of these conferences before.

  7. I’ve missed the dates this time, but I would love to participate next year. Please tell me that this is an annual event.

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