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Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is an incubator of bright ideas. As early as their first year, students take part in collaborative research, challenging them to think critically and pique their intellectual curiosity. For English and Humanities major Katie Stepanek ’17 CLAS, this meant juxtaposing her theory against well-known philosopher Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age—using Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter and Jesus Christ to prove her point.
Katie presented her research, “Fulfillment in the Forbidden Forrest: The Portrayal of Vocation in Contemporary Literature,” at Villanova University’s 2016 Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Poster Day.
In his book, Taylor claims that we live in a secular age, and that we view fulfillment as human achievement and worldly success. Katie admits to the evidence of secularism today, but contends we’re dissatisfied with that and still yearn for vocation.
Using popular literature to demonstrate society’s dissatisfaction, Katie draw parallels between Christ and protagonists Harry Potter, from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Katniss Everdeen, from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy.
“As an English major, I was interested in what the books of this supposedly secular age said about the individuals who were making these stories popular,” Katie says.
In her research and literary analysis, Katie found Katniss to be deeply unfulfilled with her worldly success and drew similarities between Harry and Jesus.
“In the series, Harry declares that his final purpose is not found in this world, but in his death, which certainly doesn’t belong in Taylor’s secular age,” Katie explains, “And yet, this is the most successful piece of literature of our time.”
Katie concludes that Millennials still yearns for vocation and is subsequently unhappy with the secular age in which they are living. Although Katie came to Villanova with a love of literature, it was her Liberal Arts education that informed her research.
“The Humanities curriculum has been instrumental in my education, because it has taught me to always seek out the answers to the big questions,” says Katie. “I learned to ask, ‘What does a good human life look like?’ In my research, this was my driving question.”