Religion at Hogwarts
J.K. Rowling recently caused a stir online (as she always does when she tweets) when she responded to a fan’s question about Jewish students at Hogwarts, causing me to come back to earlier questions I had about the role of religion at Hogwarts and in the broader wizarding world. Rowling’s comment that the only religion not present at Hogwarts is Wiccan also clarifies for those who oppose the Potter series for religious reasons that the wizardry in Harry Potter is not spiritual but more practical and scientific. I’ll look at the religious diversity in the series, implications of practicing religion at Hogwarts, and religious objections to the series and how Jo’s recent tweet should ease some of these anxieties.
In her tweet to a Jewish fan, Jo mentioned Anthony Goldstein, an oft mentioned (but more often forgotten) Ravenclaw student in Harry’s year. While Goldstein is constantly present and has an obviously Jewish name, his presence is so unnoticed that Jewish fans do not feel represented in the series. The last name Patil suggests that Padma and Parvati come from a Hindu family, but again, nothing explicitly states that they practice Hinduism or come from any type of religious background. Just as many have complained with the rather late “outing” of Albus Dumbledore, the Harry Potter books skirt around the issue of religious diversity by pushing religious characters into the background rather than allowing them importance in the plot.
The wizarding world seems to, at least in Britain, have a vaguely Anglican background (celebrating Christmas, the role of godparents, etc), suggesting that wizards may practice religion. Godric’s Hollow is even home to a small church where one can assume the wizards and Muggles of the village worship together. However, it doesn’t seem that religion plays a big role in students’ lives at Hogwarts; in fact, it seems difficult to be actively religious at Hogwarts. Sundays are largely spent writing essays and practicing for Quidditch with no mention of a nearby church or school chapel for students. Would religious leaders be allowed to teach classes in Catholicism or Judaism for students preparing for confirmation or their bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah? Are there accommodations for Muslim students’ prayer time? There are a lot of potential issues to explore, particularly considering the large immigrant population in urban England, and these answers may hopefully appear in subsequent chapters of Pottermore, or perhaps Jo will mention them in another Twitter Q&A.
On a larger scale, this also addresses the fear of some religious groups that the Harry Potter series promotes Wicca. However, Jo’s tweet affirms what the series already proved to fans: Jo’s wizardry is more about convenience and practicality than religion. Hopefully, this opens up Potter for more fans who will enjoy the religious diversity of the series.