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  • Writer's picturePodcast Librarian

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: The most fun English class-type discussions ever

The Premise (from Apple Podcasts):

It’s the English class you didn't know you missed and the meaningful conversations you didn't know you craved. Join Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile as they bring thought, reflection and laughter to Harry Potter; not just as novels, but as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives. Relive the magic chapter by chapter as they explore themes such as commitment, revenge and forgiveness. This podcast creates time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t just help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.

Series or standalone:

Series, technically, because each season focuses on one of the books or a broader theme (The Women of HP). But you could certainly pick and choose some episodes to listen to.

Begin listening to:

Wherever you like, but you can start at the beginning of each season to go through the book chronologically.


Discussion, like a book club.


Vanessa and Casper are both graduates of Harvard's Divinity School, hence the "sacred reading" approach. However, don't get turned off by the divinity component--Vanessa considers herself an "atheist chaplain."

Sound/production quality:

Very good

Rating/age suitability:

Considering this goes beyond the typical book club discussion and incorporates some spiritual concepts, it's probably intellectually most suited to adults, though high schoolers could probably get into it as well with some guidance.

Approximate length of episodes:

45 minutes

Curricular ties:

There's some potential here, particularly if you work at a religious school that doesn't mind combining the secular with religious themes. And truly, not all the themes are necessarily religious (arrogance, truth, etc.), so it may even fit into your regular English class curriculum. The only catch would be that all your students would need to have a familiarity with the books.

Similar recommended pods:

Vanessa also hosts Hot and Bothered (see my review), which takes a similar approach to romance novels. Not for kids but very fun!

Podcast Librarian’s Review:

Confession time: despite being a children’s librarian, I never read the full HP series. I had a hipster mindset as a child, so as a voracious reader, when everyone was reading the series (including kids I knew were not readers), my snobby little 10-year-old self decided that the books couldn’t be any good. I did eventually read the first book for a college class and have seen several of the movies. Anyway, all this is to say they I may not be the best person to review a HP podcast, but I liked what I heard. I listened to it because I am enjoying Vanessa’s (co-host) other podcast, Hot and Bothered . HPATST is what it would be like if HP was your required reading for English class in high school or college—but with a sort of spiritual spin because the hosts and producer all attended Harvard Divinity school. Treating the series as a “sacred text” means that they trust the text, practice rigor and ritual, and read as a community; this is all explained further on their website. The episodes go chronologically through the book series, and focus each week on a different chapter and theme, like jealousy, delight, beauty, willpower, etc. The discussions are fun, though, and you can tell how much the hosts love and respect the writing. I honestly did not realize there was a spiritual aspect to the discussion from the few episodes I heard, so if you’re a fellow non-religious person, don’t let the “sacred” element dissuade you. If you’re a HP fan, get ready to binge!

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