Religionless universe of Harry Potter

So 30 března 2019

(my comments on the thread “Probably gonna catch some hate for this. Religion and Mythology and its place in fiction.” on Reddit by RhysThornbery; edited for this blog)

The question is about the role of religion [1] in the HP universe, and it is very interesting one. I am a Christian and I was looking for some good religious fanfiction stories for myself.

It is kind of weird that in the country where majority of Muggles at least nominally belong to the Church of England (for you, Americans, not every state in the world has separation of the state and church) there is no mention of anything religious anywhere. Of course, the true reason is probably that Ms. Rowling wanted to have her book approachable and commercially acceptable all over the world (or she probably didn’t think about that at all), but sometimes it is really a bit ridiculous. All those Christmas, Easters, and no mentioning of school chapel (every large British educational institution has one, of course)? All those godfathers and godmothers and no baptisms (try to imagine Sirius Black present to the baptism of Harry in the church of St. Jerome in the Godric’s Hollow; or even better, Lily in the church praying for the God’s protection from Voldemort)? Nothing.

(update 2020-07-15) Ha! There actually was the christening.

This religion-lessness mostly continues in the fanfiction universe. There are really few stories which take religion seriously and even less which make a good job of it.

In completely random order (just as I found it in various bookmark lists):

  1. Prayers by Master Spy advenger. This is sweet, not super deep, but lovely retelling of missing parts of DH from the Hermione’s point of view, who is practising Anglican and carries with her “Prayers for Young Girls” as surprisingly relevant guide through her struggles. Prayer in face of Voldemort (or Bellatrix Lestrange) is here surprisingly convincing (I was always afraid that such stories end up like the Hogwarts, School of Worship, which is IMHO abomination).
  2. Trading My Sorrows by ShadowBallad. Severus Snape’s cover is blown and he is saved on the run from Death Eaters by a wizarding priest who teaches him a lot about faith and himself. Not bad, the heart of the author is certainly in the right place, but it seems to me that he never figured out how to finish the story and it somehow hangs in the middle. Also, this story suffers horribly from lack of editing (and here mainly cutting it down) and couple of occassions of rhetorical diarrhea, which makes reading it rather difficult. Show, don’t tell!
  3. Solo by Crookshanks22. For change, Severus here is not Roman Catholic but Jewish, but the main hero are OC person (Jake) and Anthony Goldstein and their trials and tribulations with trying to be faithful Jew in quite secular environment of Hogwarts. Except, it is apparently not as secular as Ms. Rowling talking from the Harry’s point of view lead us to believe. There are Christians (Terry Boot, Cedric etc.), of course Patils are Hindus, there are some Muslims IIRC, and all of them are trying to navigate waters of Hogwarts as much as they can. Sympathetic, but the author is apparently Jewish and he is struggling with understanding of Christianity (that’s the one I can judge) rather desperately.
  4. Sanctuary by sheankelor. Severus Snape, brought up as a Roman Catholic, when dying in the Shrieking Shack manages to pull out antidote and transfer with his emergency Portkey to the friendly Irish Roman-Catholic friar who cures him. Apparently, he secretly practised his faith all those years including confessions, and he is now trying to reconcile with his past. Not bad, sometimes a bit too preachy and too much teaching the Catholic liturgy for every occasion, but story makes sense. One of the few fanfiction stories which noticed that the Good Friday Agreement happened 22 days before the Battle of Hogwarts.
  5. All Are His Children by sheankelor. Foundation of Hogwarts as viewed by Brother Brendan (from the film “Secret of Kells”) who turns out to be Fat Friar eventually. Actually, not much religious, but sweet nevertheless.
  6. The Friar's Calling by Chthonia. A rare example of a medieval story from the HP universe, and it is very good. Brother Thomas turns out to be a wizard and he is sent by his prior, Robert Grosseteste (true historical figure, famous medieval philosopher) to Hogwarts. Although he is always suspicious whether his powers are not a bit demoniacal, he is forced by God (and the Sorting Hat) to live in the wizarding world as a humble friar. Lovely description of medieval wizarding world, which is precisely not developed enough to be persuasive (he participates in developing the Floo powder). Brother Thomas is of course later the Fat Friar (who cannot leave his students for whom he cares pastorally). Sir Cadogan is present as well as his friend and not completely crazy knight.
  7. Hermione Before the Beit Din by facingthenorthwind (spacegandalf). We all suspected it, but now it is clear, Hermione is Jewish (actually, it seems to me as the only explanation why a super-bookish girl from country with mandatory religious education has no idea where “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” or “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” come from) and she is dealing with the punishment for Obliviating her parents. Jewish wizarding tribunal and all that jazz. Not bad but unfinished and sorely missing a conclusion.

{updated 2020-06-28}

  1. Thou Shalt Not Suffer by TheWizardsHarry. A girl from very strongly evangelical family (which feels more American than British, but small suspension of disbelief here is probably useful, and I am certain that every nation can generate religious bigots, there are some even here in the agnostic Czechia) gets the Hogwarts Letter and she is immediately ostracised by her parents (she is a single child) and friends from the religious community, she lives in (which is all her friends). She finds her refuge with her very distant and herself ostracised aunt who lives away. There she finds out that magical world truly exists and that the aunt is a witch herself. With a lot of hesitation, she, in the end, agrees to enter Hogwarts for a year just to control her magic, where she struggles with adventures during Harry’s Second Year. However, more important is her parallel discovering what is the relationship between magic and those verses from the Bible. During the year she meets some other Christian wizards and witches (including one very cute Cedric Diggory) and she gets her hand on an old essay by some witch named Lilly Evans who wrote a rather thoughtful analysis of that verse. Adventure is nicely written, Christian point of view very authentic, only problem is that the story ends with her first year at Hogwarts and the promised sequel is nowhere to be found. Pity.
  2. PUSH by tree_and_leaf (PUSH is apparently abbreviation common among evangelicals of some sort and it stands for “Pray Until Something Happens”). The basic plot conflict is similar to the previous one (only this is a post-war story, so for example Hermione and Ginny are as the Seventh Year girls), but the main heroine seems more depressive and strongly rejecting magic and less accessible to the argument in another direction. In relation to the title, she actually in one point prays a lot towards some resolution, and when something which really looks like God’s answer happens, she has trouble accepting it. Unfortunately, at this point when things were getting interesting, the story has been abandoned.

{updated 2023-11-22}

I forgot few:

  1. Harry Potter and the Knight of the Radiant Heart by Raven3182, which is rather bizarre retelling of the sixth year (starting with the Battle of DoM), where gets a spiritual mentor who leads him to the super!Harry status. The most strange thing is that the main tool on his spiritual journey (aside from the standard physical exercises) is reading of something which looks very much like Saint Thomas Aquinas “Summa Theologie”, but without ever mentioning the words God or Christianity. I hoped for some discussions related to ethics and religion, but the result is unfortunately rather boring superHero soft philosophy (I am not sure whether they mention literally “with great power there must also come great responsibility”, but that kind of fluff) and I quite dislike super!Harry theme.
  2. The Man Who Lived by Luke1813 just for the sake of completness, a story, where Harry achieves everything he wants and feels the emptiness of the life without God. The author has certainly his heart in the right place, but as a literature I was not impressed. Mentioned in the interesting discussion on the Reddit by /u/AntoniusScriptor

{end of the inserts}

The crazy thing is that it seems to me this is really it. If anybody knows about any other good religious wizarding story (no mocking, no anti-religious) let me know.


I am a Protestant, so for me “religion” means more “humans activity towards deity” (sacrifices, liturgy, this sort of thing) rather than just “existence of God” (and yes this understanding of the word is paradoxically for Protestants non-Biblical, James 1:27).

This is not exclusive to the Harry Potter universe. It is even more weird with J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe. Historically it is more certain than anything that Aragorn would quite certainly sacrifice to some deity before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, etc., but Tolkien was rather traditional Catholic so he probably didn't like the idea of inventing a pagan religion. Here the definition of religion is even more important. There is God in the Tolkien’s Arda universe (BTW, beginning of Silmarilion is one of the most beautiful description of rise of Evil I know about), but nobody does anything about it. There are no prayers (almost, at least no explicit ones), no sacrifices, no priests, etc.

Tolkien himself wrote about it:

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion,” to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.

—a letter to a priest, Fr. Robert Murray (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 142)

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