The Virtual Harry Potter Conference 2020

Chestnut Hill College is hosting its annual Harry Potter Conference online this year due to Pennsylvania’s draconian Covid measures and the nigh on universal conformity to state demands in this regard by university officials everywhere. The Conference begins today, you can register here, and all the talks can be watched at your at-home leisure via Zoom. The Featured Speakers and panels will present ‘live’ and answer questions; the great majority of presentations have been recorded to facilitate surety in broadcasting.

Three quick notes:

(1) The Gang’s All Here! Friends of who will be speaking at this year’s conference, moderating sessions, and participating on panels include our own Louise Freeman, Potter Pundit, Serious Striker, and Hogwarts Professor faculty member, as well as Lorrie Kim, Kathryn McDaniel, Lana Whited, Laurie Beckoff, Melissa Aaron, Kat Miller, Patrick McCauley, Caitlin Harper, Cecilia Konchar Farr, and Travis Prinzi. I was surprised that David Gras and David Martin were not listed among the speakers or panel members — I cannot remember a Chestnut Hill gathering that did not include their contributions — and hope both are well.

(2) Strike Out! The sub-title to ‘The Harry Potter Conference’ is “Academic Reflections on the Major Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Literature.” There is not a single talk or reference that I found in my quick reading of the talk and panel descriptions offered here of anything Rowling has written other than the Hogwarts Saga and the two Beasts films. Nothing about Casual Vacancy, in other words, and none of the five Cormoran Strike mysteries will be discussed, which is understandable (it is ‘The Harry Potter Conference,’ right?) but still a great failing. “J. K. Rowling’s Literature” includes her post Potter work and each and every part of it throws new light on the meaning and artistry of the seven Wizarding World novels and two Fantastic Beasts screenplays.

(3) Rowling Reversal! This year’s conference is the first since Harry Potter fandom and academic Potter Punditry with too few exceptions have done their best to “cancel” J. K. Rowling for her views on the excesses and over-reach of transgender activists. As one would have to expect, the 2020 version of the Chestnut Hill gathering is consequently very heavy on talks that, instead of exploring “the Major Themes of J. K. Rowling’s Literature,” are social justice polemics about racism, feminism, and LGBTQ+ subjects.

The two Featured Speaker talks which are described in the program are typical. Brent Satterly in “I Take Umbridge with JK Rowling – LGBTQ Betrayal” examines ” how JK Rowling’s recent attack on Transgender Women represents a betrayal of the very Wizarding World of her creation and, more severely, her LGBTQ fans.” Christopher Bell in “You Have Your Mother’s Eyes”: Identity Development in Harry Potter’ attempts a rescue of Potter studies in academia, a niche threatened because of the anathema laid on Rowling therein because of her counter-cultural views, by “challenging the notion that Harry Potter is white.” 

No doubt there is much that can be learned about Harry Potter even at this year’s virtual conference. There are what seem to this reader very promising talks and panels about historical and mythic subjects, and even one on Potter publishing. You’ll forgive me, though, I hope, for wondering if the Chestnut Hill conference has not lost its way. I’ll be hoping in the months between this year’s gathering and the one in 2021, post election, Covid, and transgender hysterics, that the premiere academic conference in Potter Studies will find the courage to re-orient itself from social justice indoctrination and progressive flag-waving to exploration of the themes, artistry, and meaning of the Rowling-Galbraith books and screenplays.


  1. David Martin says

    I’m fine, John. It was a stupid oversight on my part that I don’t have a presentation. I didn’t know that it was happening this year until it was too late to put in a presentation.

  2. Beatrice Groves says

    Glad to hear you’re well David!

  3. Louise Freeman says

    I missed speaking with you personally, hearing you present and especially catching a sherbet lemon or two. The conference organizers did a great job pivoting to the online format and I enjoyed every talk I heard. Dr. Bell’s was especially thought-provoking.

  4. I found the conference to be a welcome break from the general tension caused by recent emphasis on the pandemic and on politics. And I was quite relieved to discover that the general tenor of the conversations was not at all inclined in the direction of “canceling” Rowling.

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