Fandom and Religion Abstract

Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles: Religious Anti-fandom and the Moral Text

During the summer of 2014, press attention was caught by a piece of Harry Potter fanfiction posted to FanFiction.net. Entitled Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles, the story was an evangelical Christian reimagining of the Harry Potter series, in which Harry is raised by evolutionists, and Voldemort is intent on limiting Christians’ right to freely practice religion. While the legitimacy of the story is debatable – arguments raged about whether it was genuine or a piece of satire – the fic, and responses to it, speak to the enduring controversy surrounding the series. Many believe Christianity and Harry Potter are in direct opposition, with some parents preventing their children from reading the books, while others argued for Harry Potter’s position as a Christian text. These arguments were echoed in discussions around Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles.

This paper examines religious anti-fandom of Harry Potter by drawing on Jonathan Gray’s 2005 work on moral text viewers – anti-fans whose objections to a text are framed explicitly as moral ones. I analyse responses to Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles to determine the ways in which the story highlights enduring concerns around Harry Potter. I further analyse Christian blogs and message boards discussing Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles to examine anti-fan responses to the anti-fan text. What does the fic say about Christianity and how do Christians respond to it? What does the text mean to the Christian reader who disagrees with it? And what does anti-fandom tell us about religion and morality?

This is the abstract I’ve submitted for the Fandom and Religion conference at Leicester University. I’ve decided to start sharing abstracts on my blog because, as I said on Twitter:

Abstract Twitter convo 1
Abstract Twitter convo 2

Of course, I then realised that the abstract for the Fandom and Religion conference was supposed to be submitted blind so I wouldn’t be able to post it until I’d heard the outcome of the submission anyway (I’ve been accepted, yay!). But still, I do think that the process of writing the abstract – what you leave in and what you take out – is really fundamental to the argument you start building (even if that argument then changes during the course of research/writing) and I found that even while doing the research to write this abstract in the first place, what I was planning on arguing changed.

I first came across the Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles fic in August 2014 when it was shared on my Twitter and Facebook. I didn’t read all of the fic – I started Chapter One and found it awful! – but I found it interesting particularly as anti-fan fanfic. Fandom and anti-fandom, as Jonathan Gray notes, replicate each other, existing as a kind of ‘mobius strip’ and this seemed like a perfect example of that. So when I heard about the Fandom and Religion conference this seemed like the perfect example to discuss. I came to write the abstract today (3 January) and, as I do with all my abstracts, started doing research to reference my claims. First thing I found? Several articles arguing that the fic was a hoax, not written by a Christian mother but by a very clever troll (see: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/slices/christian-harry-potter-thing-almost-certainly-hoax; http://www.parentdish.ca/2014/09/26/christian-retelling-harry-potter-hoax/; http://www.inquisitr.com/1486616/harry-potter-christian-satire-fanfic-goes-viral/?fb_comment_id=fbc_579001418873111_594651737308079_594651737308079). Of course, no one knows for sure if it’s a piece of satire or a genuine fic, but failing to acknowledge that in my paper would compromise any argument I’d make. I wouldn’t be able to argue it is a piece of anti-fan fic because there is a huge question mark over it, but at the same time people do believe it to be real. I started thinking about how Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles works in relation to concerns about Harry Potter by Christian readers. There have been loads of discussions and arguments about how Harry Potter promotes witchcraft, how it’s not Christian, etc. (admittedly more when the series was still being published than now) so I wondered how the fic – satire or not – could still function as an anti-fan text. I wondered if I could use a piece of potential satire to examine legitimate moral concerns about a text. I might have been able to pull it off, but I was still concerned about hinging my argument on a text that wasn’t clearly satire, and then I read the final chapter:

“How can we focus on helping people; when there are people like you trying to destroy us?” Dumbledore countered astutely.

“I told you before, that Reddit account is a joke,” Voldemort whined pathetically; but the Reverend shook his head.

“I thought that might be so at first,” the Reverend commented fairly. “But it was just too realistic.”

“How was it realistic?” Voldemort inquired uninformedly. “It wasn’t even subtle! I waxed poetic about the sexiness of neckbeards and said that Christopher Hitchens has superpowers. It was supposed to be funny! How could you take it seriously?”

Dumbledore scoffed; and he replied faithfully, “Like it or not-your little ‘joke’ is what most atheists today are like.”

“So my Reddit account solidified your conception of atheists as a bunch of anti-Christian bigots who are just angry at God?” Voldemort solicited stupidly; and then he sighed. “Okay, you know what, this has gone too far. I’m sure that most people can tell that I’m not being serious, but if I’m contributing to misinformation and stereotypes, I don’t feel comfortable continuing this.”

Voldemort pulled an iPhone out of his pocket; and he began to type on it. After a few minutes, he showed the screen to Dumbledore. “See this? I just made a post: ‘I am a troll.’ It is the last post I will make on that account. Are you happy?”

Yeah, pretty sure that it is satire. But the responses to the fic from Christians and non-Christians alike remained interesting. I was still a bit annoyed that I wouldn’t be able to talk about anti-fan fic (though it does exist for Fifty Shades of Grey so there’s mileage there) but the reception of the piece by readers of all kinds opened up some new possibilities. What I decided to do then was to use Gray’s work on anti-fandom and the moral text to look at Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles rather than at Harry Potter. How did anti-fandom of anti-fandom work? What did Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles say about religion and anti-fandom, and religious anti-fandom, and anti-fandom of religious anti-fandom by religious people? Religious anti-fandom of Harry Potter exists, and on the face of it this fic seemed to be part of that, but for many people it wasn’t – it satirised Christianity instead.

So that’s what I’m hoping to do with this paper, and that’s how my ideas and arguments changed over the course of writing and researching the abstract. I’m sure they’ll continue to develop as I write and research the paper – all research must otherwise how do we improve?

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