We can learn from Harry Potter, monk tells academics
POLITICS has failed us, economics has failed us and the weather has failed us.
Now one of the country's leading monks has said we should look to Harry Potter and his magic for something better.
Academics gathered from across the world yesterday at the University of Limerick (UL) for the country's first conference exploring the cultural influence of the Potter books and films.
The keynote address of the two day event -- entitled 'Magic is Might 2012' -- was given by the abbot of Glenstal Abbey in Limerick, Mark Patrick Hederman.
The Benedictine monk, who has a doctorate degree from UCD in the philosophy of education, said lessons from Harry Potter could benefit the country -- specifically in education.
He admitted he was "not necessarily" a big 'Harry Potter' fan, but had read all seven of JK Rowling's books.
"I am a great believer that Harry Potter is one of the most important cultural influences on all our children during the beginning of this century," he said.
"I think Joanne K Rowling is one of the most important influences on our world today.
"She is in connection with 480 million children in a way that every one of us should be envious of, especially if we are in education. She is doing more for imagination than any other single force in our thoroughly bleak and business-like century."
Asked could Ireland learn lessons from 'Harry Potter', the abbot replied "very definitely".
"It (the seven books) is not telling us exactly what we should do, but how we should approach the future," he said.
"It is a way of allowing children use their imagination. They immediately relate to 'Harry Potter' -- they don't need a course of introduction.
"In education, we should be emphasising imagination much more than we are at the moment," Brother Hederman said.
"At the present time, imagination is the last in the list of what we are promoting in our children and we are trying to trap them into economic reasons for their education whereas in fact education should be for their full flowering and development -- especially in their imaginations," he said.
The UL conference was organised by Dr Luigina Ciolfi (37) who works with the faculty of Computer Science and Information Systems and Grainne O'Brien (25) who has completed a thesis on Lord Voldemort -- the sworn enemy of Harry Potter.
Ms O'Brien from Sixmilebridge, Co Clare already has a degree in English and history from UL and a masters degree in sociology with a focus on gender studies.
She said as a postgraduate student her thesis on the evil Lord Voldemort -- played by actor Ralph Fiennes in the films -- was somewhat unusual. From her research, Ms O'Brien found out there were a lot of people doing similar projects on 'Harry Potter' and the idea for a conference came about.
"We discussed various different cultural influences on the 'Harry Potter' world -- sociological, religion, philosophy, how the development of technology has been affected by Harry Potter," Ms O'Brien said.
Dr Ciolfi from Tuscany, Italy said she met with her co-organiser, Ms O'Brien, through a mutual colleague in UL.
"Grainne was really keen about this and I was delighted to join," Dr Ciolfi said.
"It is great to discuss our research with our colleagues and learn from their work. We got to hear from people who are not in our disciplinary areas," she said.
"I think Harry Potter has had a big influence on everyone who has read it. So many people love the books and are inspired by them," Dr Ciolfi added.