Resource Page

Disseration Project: Deeper Magic in Shallow Times?

Negotiating Religious Identity in Contemporary Society through Fantasy Fiction (Harry Potter, Dark Materials, Left Behind)

Last update: Nov. 3, 2009 

This resource page provides links to rough drafts of my dissertation project; it is also something of a macro-level notepad for my own research process. You may or may not find anything interesting and/or intelligible here. If you should, feel free to read, but please contact me at before quoting anything or taking anything too seriously!

I have a University of Zürich grant to work on this project full time until August 2010, and I'll be updating as regularly as possible. Comments are appreciated!

My official project page: 


This project compares the way fantasy fiction is employed and adapted to negotiate religious identity in three very different, yet very successful contemporary series: the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling (ambivalently Christian, British), the Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman (atheist, British) and the Left Behind series by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins (fundamentalist Christian, American).


Fantasy fiction creates virtual worlds that straddle the borders between the possible and the impossible in an ambivalent relation to culturally canonical models of reality and possibility, potentially opening new vistas through the trope of "deeper magic." The role of deeper magic in fantasy bears comparison to the function Luhmann attributes to religion in connecting the extra-systemic Other and the inner-systemic known. It follows that popular fantasy fiction carries latent religious significance, worthy of theological reflection – which I propose to trace through five dimensions of religious experience: world, time, ethics, community, and the holy.


Ricoeur’s discussion of the call-response structure of Other of the conscience in relation to the self can be understood as implicitly religious, suggesting in turn an ethical, personal broadening of Luhmann. As such, the question about any instance of religion becomes, “What kind religious voice calls what kind of self to what kind of Good in what fashion?” The project turns this question to the forms of deeper magic met in the three series. To appropriate Booth’s ethical criticism, what kind of religious reader do the stories want their readers to become – and how do they go about this task?


The following chapters take up this question as seen from the perspective of the five dimensions above. What call-response structures are presented by the stories – and how are they similar and different? What rhetorics do the narratives employ to present these structures as trustworthy, and how do these compare? And what is to be learned from these encounters between theological questioning and popular fantasy narratives that is of value for understanding and constructing successful forms of religious identity in a contemporary context?

Detailed Overview (now a bit out of date)


Material Online

Part I: Methodology

Chapter One: Introducing the Subjects

Chapter Two: Setting Parameters: Fantasy, Religion and Deeper Magic

Chapter Three: Inside the Parameters: Fantasy Fiction, Religious Identity, and the Religious Reader

Part II: Reading Fantasy for Religious Identity in World, Time, Ethics, Community and the Sacred

Chapter Four: Self, World, Magic
Chapter Five: Time & Magic
Chapter Six: Magical Ethics and the "Called Self"
Chapter Seven: Communitarian Magic?
Chapter Eight: The Sacred and Magic

Part III:  Competing Enchantments

Part IV: Conclusions (planned)

[Planned Chapter Nine: Threats and Resolutions from Three Fantasy Perspectives: Deeper Magic for Shallow Times?]

Part V: Bibliography

Other Resources