CFP: Harry Potter Conference

I’m very happy to finally announce what I’ve been keeping secret for so long. So secret, in fact, I hadn’t even told you I had this particular secret. I’m organising a Harry Potter conference here in sunny St Andrews. (Yes, it is! It’s sunny out my window, just—there!)

Harry Potter studies seems to be a growing field right now, with several conferences in the eastern US and one in Ireland, but to my knowledge this will be the first academic Harry Potter conference in the UK. And I’m very happy it will be St Andrews, as the School of English did, in fact, award J. K. Rowling an honorary doctorate.

The unique emphases of this particular conference are 1) using Rowling’s concepts of imaginative empathy as a starting point for discussing the books, and 2) engaging the series directly as literary text(s). I’m hoping to interest researchers who may not be working on Harry Potter right now, but who might be encouraged to find ways to read and examine the series in light of the their own research. And I’m especially hoping to get papers from that quite probably very large demographic: scholars who are avid Harry Potter readers but haven’t thought of engaging it as a critical text yet.

The conference will be held on 17-18 May 2012, and the deadline for abstracts and panel proposals is 15 November 2011. We are willing to consider virtual, video conference presentations or panels, but spaces will be limited, so if that interests you contact me sooner rather than later. And I’ll hint broadly that there might very well be something rather like a book developing from this.

The full call for papers is below the jump. Please reproduce and disseminate as widely as you wish; just please include a link back to this site.

I hope to see your abstract soon.

Call for Papers:

A Brand of Fictional Magic: Imaginative Empathy in Harry Potter

A two day conference hosted by the School of English, University of St Andrews
17-18 May 2012,  Kennedy Hall, St Andrews, Scotland

The relentless success of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1997-2007) evokes words like phenomenon and catastrophe. With the conclusion of the film franchise and the launch of, the series is receiving increased academic consideration in conferences, articles, and monographs. However, relatively little work has been done directly engaging with the series as a literary text. This conference attempts to begin redressing that lack.

Rowling’s combination of fantasy and school-story genres, her use of folkloric archetypes and mythopoeic symbolism, and her social and religious messages render the Harry Potter books a point of interest—and controversy—to scholars from a wide range of disciplines. This conference seeks to critically explore Rowling’s concept of imaginative empathy, the ability to “learn and understand, without having experienced.” Of particular interest are ways in which the power of empathy, in addition to its being of socio-political necessity, might be read as Rowling’s “brand of fictional magic.”

We invite papers and panels that engage with the text to discuss the centrality of empathy to the economies of the creative artist. Relevant topics might include:

  • The poetics of empathy
  • Symbolic or archetypal depictions of empathy
  • Readings of the series as children’s or YA literature
  • Mythopoesis and the re-appropriation of folklore
  • Medievalism and depictions of the Middle Ages in the Wizarding World
  • Space, landscape, or architecture
  • Representations and uses of socialization or maturation
  • Depictions of education and pedagogy, empathetic or bounded
  • Rowling’s concepts of “mental agoraphobia” and “wilful unimagination”
  • Literary influences on the series
  • Textual or semiotic analysis of the narrative
  • Genre criticism, viz., Gothic, Fantasy, Fairy Tale, School Story, Dystopia, et al.
  • Narrative voice and authority
  • Political empathy, class action, or solidarity

Keynote speakers will be John Granger and Jessica Tiffin.

Papers will be 20 minutes, and may discuss any of the seven books individually or the series as a whole. Please submit a 300-word (max.) abstract in .doc, .docx., or .pdf format with a short CV to John Patrick Pazdziora ( by 15 November 2011.


14 thoughts on “CFP: Harry Potter Conference

  1. I saw an old comment the other day where someone wished there was a paper by an educational expert on teaching philosophies exemplified in Order of the Phoenix. If anybody writes that, I’d read it.

  2. I’ll definitely circulate this widely, Mr. Pond. There are certainly scholars I know in various disciplines who would love this opportunity. How awesome and exciting that you’ll be holding this! It’s an excellent complement to the more philosophically themed one I’ll be holding in NYC on October 29 this Fall.

    And Eric, I think that I’ve come across an essay or two on the topic you mention, so I’ll get back to you as soon as I can locate it/them.

  3. Carrie-Ann, thanks! We were very excited when your CFP came through, since we’d already started talking about academic Harry Potter studies and so on. I think one of my colleagues is going to attend (though not present). I wanted very much to send you a submission but this Fall is just going to be mad, and it won’t be possible for me to get to New York. I hope it goes really well for you, though, it sounds fascinating.

    Eric, well, I don’t want to speak for her, and of course can give no promises at this stage, but I can quote Jessica Tiffin’s website, where she says that ‘[my] current research work in progress includes Harry Potter and pedagogy’. Having seen some of Dr Tiffin’s published research, I can say with confidence that you have an outstanding article to look forward to.

  4. Too bad, Mr. Pond, that you were not able to submit for the NYC conference. I unfortunately don’t think that I’ll be able to submit for yours either, since that’s our college’s graduation weekend (which faculty are required to attend, and I’d want to attend anyway to see off our departing majors) and then final grades are due a few days later. [insert a very sad face] One of these days, though, we’d love to visit Scotland, Ireland, etc., and so maybe our paths shall cross in not too long. We do have someone from St. Andrews slated to present on spells & hate speech, though, so your institution will be repped!

    And Eric, here are a couple of references to articles on pedagogy in Harry Potter to add to the one Mr. Pond gave you:

    “A Hogwarts Education: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Gregory Bassham, in The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy, ed. Gregory Bassham (Wiley 2010), pp. 212-225.

    “Schooling Harry Potter: Teachers and Learning, Power and Knowledge,” Megan L. Birch, in Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter, 2nd ed. (Routledge 2009), pp. 103-120.

    Bassham is a Philosophy professor, but does work in philosophy of education and critical thinking, and Birch is an English professor who is also a teacher educator.

  5. That is very interesting indeed, and I do think this being the first academic conference in UK (though Accio 2008 may be considered a kind of attempt, I believe). I will be very happy to submit my proposal…

  6. Are you still accepting abstracts for the conference?

    I know the official deadline is coming up soon, but I’ve only just found out about it, and I’m hoping there’s still a chance to submit one.

  7. At time of writing, we’re still accepting abstracts. The deadline is at midnight, though I might nudge-wink some through if they’re not terribly tardy. So do go ahead and submit one, but better not lollygag about it! 🙂

  8. Pingback: Rowling in the Deep | ravingsanity

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