Hogwarts, Houses, and Horcruxes:  The Psychology of Harry Potter Dear Reader, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has become a cultural phenomenon, moving beyond the literary canon into other popular culture media, including film, theatre, music, and sport.  However, the Harry Potter series has also engendered serious and important multidisciplinary scholarship, as scholars from a variety of fields have used Harry Potter as a way to talk about important issues:  race, gender, and class; typical and pathological human behavior; education and learning; nature and nurture; good and evil; reality and knowledge. In this first year seminar at Drew University in Madison, NJ, we use the Harry Potter canon as the basis for considering these and other psychological, social, and cultural issues. The Drew First-Year Seminar introduces students to the intellectual life of the liberal arts college. The seminars revolve around an intellectual area of exploration, individually designed by the faculty member teaching the course.  The course is rigorous and analytical, engaging explorations of a significant question, mode of inquiry, or topic. The goal is to facilitate the academic skills and habits of mind that are central to higher education; faculty share their intellectual passions and welcome students into the collaborative culture of the liberal arts college.  In the seminar, students develop critical thinking, writing skills, rhetorical knowledge, oral communication, and information literacy. At the end of the semester, students in the seminar participate in a Letters Live reading, modeled after the Letters Live program in London that began in 2013; the goal of which is, as they eloquently state, “a celebration of the enduring power of literary correspondence“. After spending the semester reading analyses and critiques of the Harry Potter canon, students choose a topic and recipient, and write a 3-page letter that is informed by theory and data, inspired by their own reflection on the course material, and demonstrates their thoughtful, intelligent, and intensely personal connection to the material.
I invite you to read the letters, and to write your own – Harry Potter-themed or otherwise. To borrow from author Elizabeth Kostova, “…[I]n this era of e-mail and voice mail … a plain old paper letter takes on amazing intimacy”. Sincerely, Jill Cermele, PhD Professor of Psychology and Director of the First-Year Experience, Drew University

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