With the summer semester comes the return of SOC 317 — Sociology of Harry Potter, an elective course that challenges students to view the world of Harry Potter from a sociological perspective.
The class has two main focuses: looking at various institutions and societal structures within the world of the Harry Potter books and movies, and looking at the culture and community the series has created in our society. Sociology Professor Florence Maätita, the instructor of the class since its inception in 2013, said the books are a conduit for examining real life issues.
“‘Muggle’ is now in the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s become this global phenomenon … How does that kind of influence happen? Also, we’re looking at key sociological issues like social institutions, prejudice and discrimination, and we’re using the books and the movies as a way to illustrate what these points really are,” Maätita said.
According to Maätita, students should leave the class with a better understanding of how to view things through a sociological lens. She said Harry Potter is a fun way to develop that skill.
“If they can apply this lens to understanding other things that are meaningful in their lives, other experiences, other kinds of relationships, then I think that’s a success for me. I use this class as a way to get students to practice that,” Maätita said.
While the core fundamentals of the class remain the same, some of it has changed due to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s recent statements on gender and sex, which many have deemed to be transphobic. Maätita said this has shifted Rowling’s role within the class discussion.
“Folks in the trans community and also allies are not necessarily turning away from the books, but turning away from her. So, I think it’s an interesting moment that we’re seeing … What happens when someone like J.K. Rowling says something that stands in the face of their own reality? How do you reconcile the two?” Maätita said.
Maätita also said students don’t have to be Harry Potter fans to take the class.
“The first time I taught the class back in 2013, I tried to make it as accessible to folks as possible … Not everyone has read the book, not everyone has seen the movies,” Maätita said.
Students agree that the class was fun and helpful to their sociology education. Senior sociology major Deangelo Franklin, of Fairview Heights, Illinois, said the class was what got him interested in Harry Potter.
“It was indeed an eye opener. I didn’t know what to expect going into the class. I had not read Harry Potter, but the class enlightened me a lot and it also sparked my interest in Harry Potter … I would recommend the class to anybody,” Franklin said.
Senior sociology major Stephanie Lagona, of Edwardsville, said the class made her better at looking at the world with a sociological perspective.
“It gave me a much better ability to look through a sociological lens at not only fictional worlds and how they relate to our world, but to actually be able to look deeper at our own world and see how even in writing and even in art, what we do is reflective of what we live,” Lagona said.
Students can learn more about the class on the SIUE website.