Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

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Harry Potter and the Sacred Text
Hosted byVanessa Zoltan and Casper Ter Kuile
GenreSpirituality, literature
ProductionAriana Nedelman, Casper Ter Kuile, Vanessa Zoltan
Theme music composed byIvan Pyzow and Nick Bohl
No. of seasons5 (and a Woman of Harry Potter Sacred Text season)
No. of episodes162 (as of May 5th, 2019)
Original releaseMay 19, 2016 – present
ProviderNight Vale Presents and Not Sorry Productions

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text is an audio podcast founded and hosted by Vanessa Zoltan and Casper Ter Kuile in which the Harry Potter books are read as a sacred text. Each episode, the characters and context of one chapter in the Harry Potter series are explored through a different central theme like 'vulnerability', 'betrayal', or 'friendship'. The podcast, which charted #2 on the US iTunes Charts a few months after its inception in 2016,[1] has been described as "Bible studies for J.K. Rowling fans".[2]


The project originated at Harvard Divinity School, where both founders studied and shared an interest in religion without God - with Vanessa Zoltan describing herself as "an atheist and a Jew and a humanist"[3] and Casper Ter Kuile training as a minister for non-religious people.[4] The inspiration for the podcast was a lecture by Zoltan on reading Jane Eyre as a sacred text, which Ter Kuile attended. As a fan of the Harry Potter books, he persuaded Zoltan to attempt to apply the same method of sacred reading to Harry Potter.[5]

In 2015, the duo started a weekly book club in the off-campus Humanist Hub.[6][7] They chose the Harry Potter series because of its wide cultural reach and its coverage of life's big questions - like love, friendship, family and loss - with Ter Kuile noting that Harry Potter is "often a text that people turn to in real times of trouble".[8]

When the book club grew in popularity and gained interest internationally, Zoltan and Ter Kuile decided to turn their project into a podcast.[9] Harvard Divinity student Ariana Nedelman, an experienced digital producer, was enlisted to help make the transition from book club to podcast production.[10][11] A Kickstarter project was set up to fund the production, which successfully raised $3,549 - exceeding their original $3,000 goal.[12]

On April 17, 2020, it was announced that after the podcast went through all seven books, the podcast would restart the series with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone again.[13] With this announcement came the news that after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was finished on the podcast, the host Casper Ter Kuile would be leaving, and the podcast would instead be hosted by Vanessa Zoltan and Matt Potts, an Episcopal Priest and an Associate Professor of Religion and Literature and of Ministry Studies at Harvard Divinity School.[14]


The podcast follows the composition of the Harry Potter book series; each regular podcast episode covers a chapter of the book, and each podcast season ends when the book is finished.[9] Besides discussing a different chapter each week, every episode also has a different theme through which the text is explored, like 'love', 'forgiveness', 'duty', or 'heartbreak'.[15][16][17]

Most episodes follow the same format. Recurring segments include:[18][19]

  • 30-second recap, in which the hosts compete to summarize this week's chapter as comprehensively as possible;
  • Reading and discussing the chapter through the week's theme. For instance, in an episode about shame, the show explored ways in which the characters can be seen to act out of shame or embarrassment.[20]
  • Sacred reading: a specific sacred reading practice is applied to part of the chapter. Practices used include chavruta, pardes, florilegium and lectio divina.
  • Fan voicemail: listeners of the podcast send in their own personal stories related to the book or a topic discussed in a previous episode. The topics are usually quite serious; for instance in season 3 a listener from Austin, Texas shared her thoughts on the recent University of Texas stabbing related to the theme of forgiveness.[21]
  • Blessing: the podcast closes with Zoltan and Ter Kuile each choosing to bless a character from the chapter. Since the inception of the podcast, Zoltan has endeavoured to always pledge her blessing each episode to a female character in the chapter, which has, in some instances, particularly highlighted the complete absence of female presence in some chapters of Harry Potter.

Other activities[edit]

Zoltan and Ter Kuile also host live shows, which are 'inspired' by the podcast but include more interactive elements. Live events have included games, live music, audience participation and meditations.[17][22] Harry Potter and the Sacred Text live shows have been featured at conventions like LeakyCon, PodCon and Nerdcon:Nerdfighteria.[23][24]

While the original book club started by Zoltan and Ter Kuile continues to this day, local reading groups for Harry Potter and the Sacred Text have sprung up all around the US as well as in the UK, Europe, Canada and Australia.[7][25]


Harry Potter and the Sacred Text charted #2 on the iTunes Podcast Charts in August 2016 and has around 100,000 listeners per week.[1][7] The podcast was listed in The Guardian's "50 best podcasts of 2016", taking the number two spot in the category "Culture and Sport",[26] and featured second on Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" in September 2016 [27]

According to The Daily Dot, "the beauty of the podcast comes from the storytelling and analysis". They consider the show a fascinating way to revisit the Harry Potter books, adding that it "manages to respect and reflect on a range of faiths and religions from around the world." [2] The Jewish Journal describes Harry Potter and the Sacred Text as "proudly idealistic, but also grounded in realism",[11] while the Utah Statesman praises the hosts' charm: "Zoltan and ter Kuile have been accomplishing their goal of relating Harry Potter text to real-world lessons, but it is their nerdy and friendly personalities that keep me coming back for more each week." [28]

However, some publications express reservations about co-opting religious language for secular texts. Conservative journal LifeZette posits: "Fans of the podcast are using terminology previously used by or about Christian believers to describe their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, yet now they’re talking about … a wizard." and says about Vanessa Zoltan "Clearly, she and her colleagues are 'up to something.'" [29] Religious journal First Things gives a mixed review, criticising the lack of solid basis for its definition of 'sacred' and noting: "It seems that the hosts of this show are great on quips, but not so good on metaphysics". However, they praise the podcast's humble approach to the text and consider it part of a valuable literary culture that loves books for their 'hidden gifts': "much of HPST is simply an exercise in thoughtful reading—the kind of joyful reflection that draws avid readers and makes avid readers, that reminds us how great books comes alive when we trust them to teach us something".[30]


  1. ^ a b "'Harry Potter and the Sacred Text' International iTunes Chart Performance". iTunes Charts. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b Farrar, Joseph. "The 'Harry Potter and the Sacred Text' podcast is Bible study—for J.K. Rowling fans". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  3. ^ Bedsole, James (April 14, 2019), "Open and Expanding: One year in, the Openly Secular campaign continues to promote acceptance of nonreligious Americans", The Humanist
  4. ^ Boboltz, Sara. "Why Two Harvard Academics Talk About 'Harry Potter' Like It's The Bible". HuffPost. Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  5. ^ Thompson, Caroline. "Is Harry Potter the Jesus of a New Generation?". Vice. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  6. ^ Freedman, Samuel G. "Secular, but Feeling a Call to Divinity School". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Guerra, Cristela. "Could 'Harry Potter' give rise to a new religion?". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  8. ^ "How to read Harry Potter — or anything else — as a sacred text". CBC Radio. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  9. ^ a b Madeleine L. Lapuerta; Lucy Wang. "Harvard Humanist Hub Reads Harry Potter Like the Bible". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  10. ^ Baglione, John Michael. "The sacred in Harry Potter". The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  11. ^ a b GRONOWITZ, ALLYSON. "Treating 'Harry Potter' like a holy Bible". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  12. ^ "Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: The Podcast". kickstarter.com.
  13. ^ "Harry Potter Sacred Text on Instagram: "We know you've been wondering what's doing to happen to HPST after we finish book 7, so here's a note from us to you. Listen to our most…"". Instagram. Retrieved 2020-05-16.
  14. ^ "Matthew L. Potts". hds.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2020-05-16.
  15. ^ Burbank, Megan. "Close Reading with Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile". Portland Mercury. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  16. ^ Zauzmer, Julie; Boorstein, Michelle. "Hundreds pack DC hall to discuss podcast exploring Harry Potter as a sacred text". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 6 April 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  17. ^ a b Goodykoontz, Emily. "Finding sacred lessons in the pages of 'Harry Potter'". The Register Guard. Archived from the original on 27 December 2018.
  18. ^ Chanatry, Hannah. "In A Harry Potter Podcast, A Search For Meaning In The Secular Through The Sacred". WBUR. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  19. ^ Matt, Levovic. "Harry Potter's 'sacred meaning' probed by Harvard chaplains". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  20. ^ Zoltan, Vanessa; Ter Kuile, Casper (15 Nov 2016). Shame: At Flourish and Blotts (Book 2, Chapter 4) (podcast). Event occurs at 06:10. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  21. ^ Zoltan, Vanessa; Ter Kuile, Casper (15 Nov 2016). Frustration: Grim Defeat (Book 3, Chapter 9) (podcast). Event occurs at 31:23. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  22. ^ Jacobs, Ashley M. "Exploring Beginnings With "Harry Potter and the Sacred Text"". Jewish Boston. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  23. ^ "Nerdcon:Nerdfighteria Schedule". Nerdcon Nerdfighteria.
  24. ^ Pocock, Emma. "'Fantastic Beasts' Star Alison Sudol Joins LeakyCon Lineup!". The Leaky Cauldron. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  25. ^ "Local HPST Groups". harrypottersacredtext.com.
  26. ^ "The 50 best podcasts of 2016". The Guardian.
  27. ^ Joey, Nolfi. "EW Must List: The Good Place, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  28. ^ Wolf, Carson. "Podcast Review: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text". The Utah Statesman. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  29. ^ Jessen, Leah. "Millennials' Scary Faith in Harry Potter". LifeZette. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  30. ^ Mayo, Joshua. "Harry Potter as Sacred Text". First Things. Retrieved 14 April 2019.