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 J.K. Rowling has retired Harry Potter, but the fictional boy wizard lives in on college classes across the country where the children’s books are embraced as literary and academic texts.

Drawing on their expertise in theology, children’s literature, globalization studies and even the history of witchcraft, professors have been able to use Harry Potter to attract crowds of students eager to take on a disciplined study of the books.

Danielle Tumminio, a Yale Divinity School graduate student and the instructor for Yale’s Harry Potter course “Christian Theology and Harry Potter,” said her academic background in literature and theology, combined with her personal interest in the books, inspired her to design the course.

The course uses all seven Potter books and the students examine Christian themes such as sin, evil and resurrection.

“It was a struggle for me as I put the class together, because I knew if I didn’t construct this really well … that a lot of what I was doing would be missed or misconstrued. I certainly didn’t want to come across as someone trying to indoctrinate my students,” Tumminio said. “I also wanted to make it clear that it was a critical endeavor, and that it wasn’t … that you’d sit around all day talking about how great Luna Lovegood was.”

The class was an immediate draw for students. Seventy-nine people showed up at the first session for the 18 open seats.

Although Yale’s course is its first Harry Potter-themed offering, other universities, including Georgetown University, Liberty University, Pepperdine University, Stanford University, Lawrence University, Swarthmore and Kansas State University, also have integrated the series into their curricula.

Rowling’s books are often analyzed in the context of other relevant texts, such as contemporary British fantasy or potential influences, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Philip Nel, author of  “J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels: A Reader’s Guide” and professor of children’s literature at Kansas State University, started teaching the books in 2002.

“Harry Potter is unfairly maligned simply because of the audience for which it is intended. Children’s literature is literature, and if people don’t agree with that definition, it’s sort of hard to have a conversation with them,” Nel said. “They see things that … are easily accessible as therefore not serious and therefore not worthy of serious inquiry.”

John Granger, author of “Looking for God in Harry Potter,” argues that children’s literature is the most important because it has the greatest formative impact.

“If you sit down with anybody now, almost of any age, if they are literate, they know Harry Potter. They know these stories,” Granger said.

Among students, there is considerable diversity of opinion as to how the books ought to be read.

Cat Terrell, a student in Tumminio’s course at Yale, said regardless of whether the books are worthy as literary texts, they have helped enhance her understanding of other academic disciplines, including theology.

“If somebody says this isn’t worth a Yale class, I would say if we were just reading the Harry Potter books for their literary merit … I would probably agree with them. [But] the lens of the Harry Potter books actually makes theology … easier to understand,” she said. “It’s amazing how many connections you can draw between the theology that we’re reading outside of class and the Harry Potter that we’ve known for 10 years.”

Edmund Kern, author of “The Wisdom of Harry Potter” and professor at Lawrence University, was originally attracted to the books based on his training as a historian of early religion, magic and witchcraft. For him, the books’ historical impact, rather than their literary context, makes for a more intriguing analysis.

“As a kind of global cultural phenomenon, Harry Potter in a sense is unprecedented. I think movies have been extremely popular around the world, I think that certain music has been extremely popular around the world, but never before has a single literary endeavor caught the attention of so many people,” Kern said.

Erika Slaymaker, a student at Swarthmore where another Potter-themed class is offered, thinks the books hold the most significance as a cultural phenomenon.

“I’m not completely convinced that it is such a fabulous set of deep writing that it deserves to be in the Western canon,” Slaymaker said. She said she considered taking Swarthmore’s class, but ended up going for another first-year seminar called “Women and Popular Culture.”

Regardless of academic arguments, the phenomenon of Harry Potter as a whole continues to elicit awe and wonder.

Lisa Lowe, professor of American Studies at Yale, has read all seven books not as a scholar, but as a parent.

“What [Rowling’s] really done is come up with a mode of captivating a whole generation: it’s a form of captive concentration that took place over a course of nearly 10 years,” Lowe said.

“As an adult, you’ll be thinking, ‘What would Harry have done?

Miss NJ:  Why is this being TAUGHT in colleges?  Why is there a class where students read and analyze Harry Potter?  Aren’t there any other books for people in college to read that would get the same points across?  Why do we continually cater to this idea of 20 year olds as children?  College is expensive; why waste your money on something like this?  Shouldn’t students be studying useful things?  Like math.



Beyoncé has redeemed herself with fans in Harrison, N.J., where she’s been filming “Cadillac Records.” Kids were disappointed last week when she ran past them after they stood for hours in the rain. But Miss Knowles, who’s playing Etta James, came back out after shooting her scene and delivered her signature.

Miss NJ:  At least the girl can learn.  And that’s important.



Miss NJ:  The top pic is the kid chosen to play the Notorious B.I.G. in the upcoming biopic.  In the pic he looks good, but he needs to do more than look the part.  Until I see this kid in motion I’m reserving judgment.



This time out, there’s no vat of chemicals to explain how Batman’s greatest enemy came to be the twisted sociopath known as the Joker.

Heath Ledger’s Joker springs full-blown in this summer’s “The Dark Knight,” the sequel to 2005’s “Batman Begins” that was previewed for theater owners Thursday with a clip showing the new movie’s opening sequence.

Unlike 1989’s “Batman,” in which the deranged, disfigured clown appearance of Jack Nicholson’s Joker resulted from a dip in chemical goo, “The Dark Knight” starts right in with the bad guy in all his psychopathic glory.

“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger,” Ledger’s depraved Joker cryptically tells an accomplice in the opening scenes, in which he pulls off a daring bank robbery.

In an interview at ShoWest, a theater-owners convention where distributor Warner Bros. showed off footage of “The Dark Knight” and the rest of its summer lineup, director Christopher Nolan said it was almost inevitable that the sequel would pit Christian Bale’s Batman against the Joker.

“The psychopathic clown, that’s an icon to stand with the guy with the ears and cape,” Nolan said. “It’s just a wonderful visual relationship, and it’s a terrifying image.”

Long before Ledger’s death of an accidental prescription drug overdose in January, the marketing of the movie had focused on the villain’s rise to power and his creepy appearance.

There had been speculation among critics and fans that the studio and filmmakers might take a different approach to selling the film in light of Ledger’s death, but the marketing has gone on as originally planned.

“I think he’d be very pleased to see we’re just moving ahead as is,” Nolan said. “If you try to honor somebody, you honor them by respecting their work and putting it out there for as many people to see. He was immensely proud of the work he did on the film. I feel a great burden to present that in an undistorted form.”

“The Dark Knight” is due in theaters July 18.

The last time producer Charles Roven saw Ledger was when he showed the actor the very footage that was screened at ShoWest.

Fans have been buzzing over the anarchic style Ledger brings to the role in the movie’s trailer, but the actor himself was utterly taken by what he saw of himself on screen, Roven said.

“He was just blown away by his own performance,” Roven said. “He said, `Can I see it again?’ So he was really, really thrilled.”

Bale — reprising his role as the wealthy Bruce Wayne, who moonlights as the emotionally tormented crimefighter — said he watched the footage Thursday with a heaviness of heart over Ledger. But Bale said he hopes the movie will serve as a testament.

“I hope that this can be seen as a celebration of his work,” Bale said. “He did a phenomenal job. It was a real joy working with the man. It was a joy knowing him, as well. I liked him a great deal, and I liked also how seriously he took his work.”

Miss NJ:  I really liked Heath Ledger as an actor and I was really looking forward to his interpretation of the Joker.  It’s very sad that he will not be here to enjoy the accolades that are sure to come.  Based on this, I guess we won’t be missing Jack come July 18.  At least not the way we missed Michelle when Hollywood made Catwoman.