Stoics Week delves into philosophy of ‘Harry Potter’

Students and Faculty attend Dr. Crane’s presentation on “The Stoic Queerness of Albus Dumbledore” on Nov. 20 in Allendale, MI.

Kaesy Garvelink

Students and Faculty attend Dr. Crane’s presentation on “The Stoic Queerness of Albus Dumbledore” on Nov. 20 in Allendale, MI.

Daniel Goubert

In “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” Albus Dumbledore said, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Those who made the choice to attend the events during Grand Valley State University’s Stoics Week were exposed to an eye-opening way of thinking that prompted them to think about who they really are.

Stoicism is a school of philosophy that teaches how reason and knowledge provide the basis for a harmonious and successful life. Stoics Week aimed to share with students the benefits of a stoic school of thought.

The week included a series of lectures and a panel hosted by GVSU’s Classics Department. With the theme “Conversations on the Happy Life,” topics included a panel discussion on emotions, probing questions like “What Kind of Life Should I Lead?” as well as a comparison between J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore character and the knowledgeable sages idealized in stoicism. Students were also sent an electronic handbook with exercises in stoicism to prompt them to think critically about their thought processes and choices.

Peter Anderson, associate professor and chair of the classics department, co-developed Stoics Week with assistant professors David Crane and Charles Ham. The week is modeled after the British University of Exeter’s Stoic Week event, which provides questionnaires, online courses and a handbook for participants to try and adopt stoic practices in to their daily lives.

Anderson said stoicism could be a powerful tool for self-improvement.

“One of the things I really like about (stoics) is their interest in helping people to be in charge of their own development,” Anderson said. “You’re not a passive thing in the universe. You have choice, and because you have choice, you can change yourself. You can do things for yourself.

“What the stoics were trying to understand is what it means to be human. So if you’re a human being, you could probably find yourself pretty interested in stoicism, or at least thinking about the same kinds of problems.”

Crane said stoicism, in brief, is about using reason to guide one’s life.

“The idea of stoicism is trying to figure out how to lead the best and most satisfying life for yourself,” Crane said. “That’s an idea we all can, and do, share. To the stoic mind, the way to do that is to really think through very deliberately all the choices they’re making and all the responses—even the emotional response— they have (towards) things.”

Crane also gave the “Stoic Queerness of Albus Dumbledore” lecture, which focused on the fictional wizard’s embodiment of classic stoic ideals, from his contemplative, rational life to his eventual acceptance of death.

Similar analyses in Crane’s lecture were applied to popular characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Gandalf. Crane said this was done to give students an idea of stoicism’s long-lasting influence.

“I hope (students) see that there’s actually a literary tradition for the representation of these sage figures,” Crane said. “The cloak, the long beard, the colorful character: that is something we’re sort of intuitively familiar with, having grown up reading and watching these things. I don’t think we have a conscious appreciation that there’s a tradition there going back hundred and thousand of years.”

In addition to many of the other problems approached through a stoic lens, Crane’s lecture turned his discussion towards contemporary issues in students’ lives by pointing out the uniqueness of J.K. Rowling’s approach to Dumbledore’s sexuality.

“I think we really do have a real problem today in thinking about the sort of lives that are available to homosexuals,” Crane said. “It’s not really an issue of tolerance or acceptance; I think many people are very accepting. But we just don’t have the stories that other people have: to think about what their future might be like, who they can emulate and aspire to be. So the idea that J.K. Rowling is trying to give the homosexual community that kind of ideal, that’s a really great thing.”

Junior Allie Pohler said listening to professors like Crane discuss topics they are passionate about made her experience with Stoics Week’s events more meaningful.

“It brought way more to life than just a class (would),” Pohler said. “It was one thing to talk about this philosophy that people believed way long ago, but we can make those connections to our modern literature even. It’s so much cooler. It really humanizes the whole philosophy.”