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NUJS Kolkata offers Harry Potter and law degree course (but only for real Potterheads) • Prof explains, issues open invitation [UPDATE-1]

One of the many court battles in Harry Potter (though Dumbledore generally made for an awful advocate)
One of the many court battles in Harry Potter (though Dumbledore generally made for an awful advocate)

NUJS Kolkata is offering a 45-hour degree course for up to a total of 40 fourth- and fifth-year law students about the law and judicial system in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe.

The course will start this upcoming winter term, held by assistant professor (and 2010 NUJS alum) Shouvik Kr Guha, who specialises in competition , banking and finance, corporate, international trade and intellectual property law (besides magical laws).

The course is called “An Interface between Fantasy Fiction Literature and Law: Special Focus on Rowling’s Potterverse”.

Although career opportunities with the Ministry of Magic’s Department of Magical Law Enforcement may be slim these days, one doesn’t need to be Professor Trelawney to foresee the course will be more popular than even the Yule Ball.

However, stiff entry requirements means ignorant Muggles should not apply: all students are “expected [to] have already read all the books at least twice, if not more” (though the Warner Brothers movies are apparently optional).

While the truest of Potterheads may want to read the full 8-page PDF course outline rife with Potter references below (or perhaps transfer to NUJS immediately), the more Squib-like may be satisfied by perusing some of the topics that will be covered in the course, such as:

  • Legal Traditions and Institutions in Potterverse (including role of law and rule of law in a magical society, moral choice and liberty in Potterverse and the role of bureaucracy in the Ministry of Magic)

• Crimes and Punishments in Potterverse (including Unforgivable Curses, Wizengamot Trials, Innocence of Sirius Black and Persecution of Tom Riddle)

  • Morality, Social Values, Identity and Class Rights in Potterverse (including (human?) dignity and enslavement of House Elves, marginalization of Werewolves, Giants, Centaurs and Merpeople, Mudbloods and Squibs, militant literacy and misuse of texts)

• The Potterverse Economy (including Gringotts, magic of money and economic growth and entrepreneurship)

• Politics in Potterverse (including bases of authority, terror and counterterror, resistance, intelligence and secret societies)

• Contracts and Agency in Potterverse (including Unbreakable Vows, Agents of Good or Servants of Evil, express will and loyalty, Snape and the Order of Phoenix, Dumbledore’s Man through and through)

• Family in Potterverse (including blood relationship, familial ties, testamentary law)

• Miscellaneous (including Quidditch and sports law, religion and destiny, Rowling’s legal battles and reflections, philosophical significance of Potterverse characters, technological anarchism & the hi-tech, low-tech wizarding world, archetypes and stereotypes, from ‘Mars is Bright Tonight’ to Horcruxes in Faerie Land and ‘Just behind the Veil’: Influences of Dante, Edmund Spenser and George MacDonald on Potterverse)

There won’t be any OWLs, but students will have to pass an end-of-semester exam, a written essay assignment on a topic selected by them, as well as a 15-minute presentation of the essay (“or in the alternative, students can perform magic tricks for 15 minutes and no, disappearance does not count”, according to the course outline).

Unsurprisingly this is not the first time the juggernaut Harry Potter franchise has faced academic attention, even in the legal field, with the course outline listing 17 Potter-related academic papers as references (a 2005 paper from the US called Harry Potter and the Law is available on SSRN, for instance, and there are several other ones available online along similar lines).

And in 2012, JGLS Sonepat assistant professor Danish Sheikh had delivered a guest lecture entitled “Hogwarts School of Legal Education: What Harry Potter can teach us about the Law”.

Update 17 October 2018, 15:45: We have reached out to Guha for comment about why he started the course, and he wrote:

This elective course is primarily meant to be an experiment more than anything else. I am sure a whole lot of people would think that there are several courses NUJS should rather offer to its students, especially courses relating to financial laws that would make their lives easier in law firms or other jobs later.

I completely agree with them about there being a huge dearth of capable and qualified people to offer such courses at NUJS and probably all other National Law Universities today. I have tried to address that in whatever small way I can over the past five years, by offering courses like Project Finance, Banking Law, International Investment Law, Insurance Law, Antitrust, Technology & Innovation etc. That is one of the main reasons I myself have returned to my alma mater, to help in whatever way I can. I am currently teaching Corporate Law I every alternate semester. How much help these courses have been are really for the students to decide, especially after they graduate.

However, I also believe that a teacher should always push the boundaries, instead of growing too comfortable or complacent. As should every student. This course is partly meant to do exactly that. Hopefully, it should make students think a little and be creative in the application of the legal principle that they know or will learn, to literary scenarios they are personally fond of and interested in.

I could have used multiple fictional universes for that, but I am preferring to start small. If we manage to come up with sufficient quality original literature in the form of student essays, we can even perhaps consider publishing a volume like Thomas Jefferson School of Law has done in the past, but let us not get ahead of ourselves at this stage. The course seems to have got way too much attention before it can even begin, something I would have liked to avoid! I don’t even know how many people if any would sign up for the course, because contrary to what an outsider may think about the course, I do not have a reputation for giving away ‘easy grades’ in any course that I offer.

I would actually be offering Project Finance as another elective course during this very semester, though to a different batch. It should prove to be a challenging exercise, given how antipodal the courses may appear and the different mindsets that teaching those would require, but hopefully I can live up to that challenge.

Finally, to every person who believes that we should offer more industry-oriented courses, please understand that I am fully on your side and would love to accept any kind of contribution from your end, in the form of course ideas, feedback, suggestions, and most of all, you all going back to your respective alma maters whenever time permits and help out with the courses.

This is an open and standing invitation for alumni including non-NUJS alumni.

I know that there are multiple administrative challenges, but we cannot really give up in the face of those, can we? To those who think that law schools should offer this kind of course too, to encourage diversity in thought process and the like among students, thank you for your vote of confidence in the course. I hope I would be able to live up to such confidence as a teacher too, and would of course love to receive any kind of feedback on how to make it better. In short, all help is welcome, from supporters and critics alike. We are all in this together, not against each other.

NUJS Harry Potter and law course (PDF)

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