Best College Ever Uses Harry Potter to Teach Philosophy

Updated: Nov. 07, 2022

For this magical college class, grab your laptop—and an ice-cold butterbeer.

harry-pottervia imdb.comWhile Hagrid hasn’t come busting down our door with a one-way ticket to Hogwarts, Muggles who love the Potter series—you know you’re a superfan if you can appreciate these Harry Potter jokes—can come pretty close at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, where professor Carolyn Hartz is bringing the magical world of Harry Potter to college by applying it to the teaching of philosophy.

The class focuses on applying Aristotle’s work on friendship and character relations to the adventures of the beloved boy wizard. And luckily, there’s no Dark Lord to worry about here; instead, the curriculum taps into the fundamentals of logic, ethics, love, nature, and the human soul by relating it to major scenes of the award-winning Potter stories.

“These are fundamental human concerns. Philosophy is, in my view, critical thinking about fundamental areas of human concern,” Hartz told the St. Cloud Times.

Hartz’s work has been praised for providing understandable examples for the tougher concepts in philosophy while highlighting the depth of Rowling’s work. Using the principles of ethics, students consider which “magical spells” are morally just in the scheme of life, and how Rowling views a human soul by studying the dark magic in the story. These dark elements include dementors, ghastly ghost-like beings that can suck out a soul, and horcruxes, objects designed to hold part of a desecrated soul.

Hartz’s revolutionary way of thinking has inspired the lives of her students. Miles Nelson, a second-year St. Cloud State student, took the course as part of a British study-abroad program in Alnwick Castle, an actual filming location for the earlier Harry Potter movies, and it prompted him to pursue a minor in philosophy.

While most students sign up the class because they assume it will be fun and light-hearted, Nelson reports that he was surprised to find it quite thought-provoking. While Harry Potter is an escapist story, readers are given an avenue in which to compare their experiences with Harry’s and offer insights on life and people.

“If you read (the Harry Potter series) through as a kid, you probably didn’t see the elements of the story that are really deep and profound,” he tells the St. Cloud Times. “This class really solidified how much I love thinking about hard problems and questions with hard answers.”

Hartz herself is a Harry Potter enthusiast; her sunlit office is reported to have Harry Potter-themed trinkets in every corner, and she even wears a Time-Turner around her neck and distributes red stones that resemble philosopher’s stones to each of her students.

Hartz has taught her course for a few years and it usually fills up, which is no surprise given the runaway success of the Harry Potter series.

“Most of the students in the class are Harry Potter nerds. That’s why they sign up for it,” Hartz has said. “I tell them: ‘You can bring your wands, but you can’t use them on exams.'”

In the future, Hartz hopes to continue using fictional stories to help readers step outside themselves and look at the world from new perspectives. She is considering streamlining philosophy through other popular pieces of pop culture as well.

“Maybe next year it might help tide people over to the final season of Game of Thrones,” she says.