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Magic and the American Dream

HNRS 2020 Sec. 062 - Spring 2023

Dr. Kenny Paul Smith Department of Philosophy and Relgious Studies

M W F 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM
200 French House

What explains the sustained popularity of supernaturally-inspired narratives such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones, among innumerable other possible examples that might be drawn from popular books, films, and cable TV series? Is it the moral example that figures such Harry and his friends provide? Or is it their ability to work together and persevere through great hardship? Is there a religious dimension to such narratives, for instance, in the battle between good and evil they depict? Or is it the wealth of magical images, ideas, and practices which abound in these books and films, and if so, why have contemporary audiences found such imagery compelling? Why, in Jeff Kripal’s words, is contemporary American culture “awash in the mythical, magical, and supernatural?” Ultimately, this course considers the Harry Potter universe as one among many cultural locations at which we might learn more about the role of magical thinking, practices, and images in American culture. We trace the deep history of the term "magic," examine many different scholarly attempts to theorize it, and discuss together the surprisingly wide range of cultural practices (past as well as present) that may be read as "magical." We will also work to contextualize such supernaturally-inspired cultural goods within changing understandings of “the American Dream,” and think critically together about any potential connections.

Fulfills General Education:

English Composition
Social Sciences