Author Reverend Danielle Tumminio has a unique theory – that Harry Potter is a good Christian.
That notion has helped make Tumminio’s career.
After obtaining an English literature undergraduate degree and two masters degrees in theology from Yale University, Tumminio would go on to teach two classes at Yale and a third at Tufts on the notion, and even publish her own book, “God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction In An Ivy League Classroom” all before the age of 30.
Now, the young author and Assistant Priest at Christ Church in Quincy will take the message of her book to a broader audience, conducting a book reading on Wednesday June 29 at the Christ Church.
The unique theory has propelled Tumminio into notoriety within academic circles, and she isn’t shy to share her thoughts. She answered a few questions from Quincy's Your Town site before Wednesday's presentation.
Danielle Tumminio: I started reading when the third one was out, and I picked them up and wasn’t looking for theological connections at all. I was vaguely aware of the discussions going on in Christian circles…[but] I was an undergrad with a major in English, and was interested in religion but wasn’t studying it at that point.
As the books came out, time passed. I went to divinity school and started studying religion specifically. At that point, I was in my final year of study when the last book came out … [By then] I had a bigger background in religion and had completed an English major, and I started looking at them then with a religion background.
It confused me why the discussion [against the book in Christian circles] was so heavily focused on witchcraft…it seemed like this discussion needed to focus on other things - sin, death, salvation, grace, what it means to love someone.
To me, that discussion couldn’t happen in a quick editorial, or a five-minute interview or sermon, it had to be a nuanced discussion of what Christians believe and how those beliefs then played out or didn’t play out in my theories. My thought was a good forum for that discussion would be a college classroom.
[So in my master’s program at Yale], I put together a syllabus to teach this class. Did it as an introduction to theology. The first week we covered introductory theology material and read the first book, and we read a book a week until the fourth book where we split them in half. I wanted to give [the students] a broad range of Christian thought as they read along with the books.
During my teaching, I had looked around a lot for resources for my students, and there wasn’t a lot for them. So that was the genesis for my book to be written.
Your Town: Will the book reading focus on the experience of teaching the class as well as the theories?
DT: I will be reading from the book, the introduction of some of what I discussed with you, the journey of writing the book, the class…also talking about why courses like this are important, who god is in the series, an ongoing discussion if there is a god figure or Christ figure in the series. I’ll also answer questions – whether Severus Snape receives grace, if there is salvation for people like Draco Malfoy.
I’ll also be talking about authorial intention…whether JK Rowling intended [Harry Potter to be read in a Christian light].
Your Town: Is J.K. Rowling a Christian?
DT: She has said in interviews that she was reluctant to talk about faith before the books were finished because she worried it would give away the ending. She also talked about being someone who struggles with faith but sees herself as a Christian …
Which is why I think the books are so compelling. Its characters are struggling to believe in something. In the books, and for her, faith becomes a journey…People today ask questions and struggle, and I think that’s a good thing. But it’s a different thing than the tone of Chronicles of Narnia, which is apologetic towards Christianity.
Your Town: What is the reaction you’ve gotten from students, or from people you’ve talked with about your theories?
DT: It’s been positive with all the groups I taught. For me, it was a special experience. I was teaching the class at 27 [years-old], and had been an undergrad at Yale myself. It was very weird to come in that first day and say, ‘what would I be for these students that I would have wanted?’
One student wrote that she came from a family where they didn’t talk about religion but that now she is comfortable. That’s what [I hope for]. Harry potter brings you to the class, but hopefully theology keeps you here.
I don’t think many of them leave the class wanting to become Christians, and that is fine…they do warm to the idea of having an intellectual discussion about the topic … students will take issue with what they read too, but they do in general think it’s a worthwhile discussion at the end.
Your Town: Those ideas you talk about that point towards Christianity – if you can have a relationship with those who have died, the idea of community, salvation, love – are those, in your opinion, what make the books and movies so popular?
DT: Yes. I think that overall, the books are very much asking questions that are very real questions for people today … They are questions for readers and for my students. I see them struggling to make those connections very often.
The reading will take place Wednesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. at Christ Church Episcopal, 12 Quincy Avenue in Quincy.