In recent years, Professor of Psychology Louise Freeman has used her love of the Harry Potter series of novels to explore scholarly topics — presenting at conferences, participating in discussions on podcasts, and lecturing to students. This semester, the professor returned to the Harry Potter Conference at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia where she has moderated a panel and watched as her students — for the first time — present their own Potter-inspired research.
Over fall break October 16–18, seniors Celine Brooks and Sharanya Rao gave a talk at the conference titled, “A Goblet of Empathy, not a Prisoner of Prejudice,” which was based on the class project from last spring’s honors colloquium that Freeman and Professor of Philosophy Roderic Owen taught. Two other students, Acacia Rodgers and Karlie Ethridge, also attended the conference.
“Celine and Sharanya showed that being a fan of the Harry Potter books was associated with greater comfort levels towards people with mental illness, specifically, PTSD, and an improved tendency to adopt another’s perspective,” Freeman said. “I am not sure what was more gratifying: having so many people, including psychology professors from other colleges and at least one of the keynote speakers, go out of their way to tell me how impressed they were with the students’ presentation, or hearing [Acacia and Karlie] planning the papers they hope to present next year in the van drive on the way back.”
“From our dig into the literature and our project, we were able to show others how reading popular literary fiction like Harry Potter has real world applications,” Brooks said. “For example, our project discovered that being a fan of Harry Potter is associated with higher perspective taking and PTSD tolerance. While this does not mean that being a fan of Harry Potter causes you to have higher empathy and PTSD tolerance, it is neat that there is this association between being a fan of Harry Potter and being able to take another person’s point of view.”
Freeman, who fell in love with J.K. Rowlings series when she read them aloud to her own children, noted the longevity of the Harry Potter novels in academia.
“Even though it has been nearly a decade since the last of the Potter books was published, scholarly work about the series continues to thrive,” she said. “I came back from the conference with three new books on the series that have just been published. It is clear to me that much of the current work is arising from interdisciplinary courses and collaborations and small liberal arts colleges like Mary Baldwin and Chestnut Hill are making big contributions.”