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The Economist International News
Feb 17, 2018

The importance of rethinking religious education

NOT ENOUGH people want to teach the subject, and there are plenty of pupils, tax-payers and even head teachers who are highly sceptical about its benefits. And yet there are good grounds for saying that knowledge of this sort is more vital than ever for the health and normal functioning of society. With only slight exaggeration, that odd bundle of statements describes the state of religious education in England.

In recent days, several news stories have highlighted this paradox. A professional body revealed that in the current academic year, less than two-thirds of the places (405 out of 643) in a training programme for religion teachers in England have been taken up. Weak supply is meeting weak demand, it would seem. Religion came near the bottom in a survey by YouGov, an independent pollster, that asked people which subjects deserved a big role in secondary education. More than half considered religion either "not very important" or "not at all important" as...Continue reading

The Economist International News
Feb 15, 2018

How the growth of cities changes farming

LOOKING out from Mathabari, a village in northern Bangladesh, the landscape glints and ripples. Twenty years ago this was a rice-farming area, with fields of bright green. Now most of the land is covered with water. Carp, pangasius, catfish and tilapia swim in ponds separated by earth embankments. A few of the remaining patches of dry ground are occupied by sheds, where chickens are raised.

Shohel Matsay Khamar was one of the first in Mathabari to start farming fish. Since 2002 he has gradually rented more land from rice farmers, amassing about 70 acres (28 hectares). His is a forward-looking fish farm, with electric paddle wheels to keep the water oxygenated. He has even built a feed mill to grind maize, mustard oil cake and other raw materials into fish pellets. Cockroaches cover the walls, feeding on the nutritious dust.

Not only have Mr Khamar's watery holdings expanded; he also gets more from each pond. He mostly farms pangasius, an unfussy silver-white fish, native to South-East...Continue reading

The Economist International News
Feb 12, 2018

Catholics argue over the value of a breakthrough deal with China

TOUGH public arguments, including some colourful name-calling, are going on between influential figures in the Catholic church. Not, this time, about the status of divorcees who remarry, or any other pastoral or theological conundrum, but about China.

For decades, two separate structures have practised Catholicism in China. One is the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), established by the Beijing authorities in 1957 and unrecognised by the Vatican. The other is the long-persecuted, semi-clandestine church headed by bishops who were canonically ordained by Rome. This situation reflects China's refusal to host institutions which defer to a foreign authority, and Rome's belief that only its blessing can make a bishop legitimate.

As the prospects emerge of a historic diplomatic breakthrough between the Holy See and China, two very different impulses are in conflict. One is the anti-communist tradition of speaking truth to atheist power, whatever the price. The other is a more pragmatic way of thinking, which accepts...Continue reading

The Economist International News
Feb 09, 2018

When saintly commemorations turn sour

SAINT AGATHA has an important place in the history of the Christian church. She is believed to have been a young woman of noble birth who was martyred, after terrible tortures, under the Roman emperor Decius in 251AD. Apart from her native Sicily, she is revered in the Basque country, Germany's Black Forest and Malta. She is one of seven female martyrs of the early church whose regular mention is prescribed in the traditional form of the Catholic Mass.

Sociologically, and even economically, Agatha still matters. In her home town of Catania, the annual rituals in her honour stretch over several days in early February, and they rank among the biggest festivals in the Catholic world. They are perhaps the main reason why Sicily can attract visitors in winter. But a respected 83-year-old priest has come to the conclusion that the church should sever all ties with this noisy exuberance.

In the view of Father Salvatore Resca, the festivities are incorrigibly tainted by activities that have no spiritual connection: gambling, cruelty to...Continue reading

The Economist International News
Feb 08, 2018

Defence correspondent
We are looking for a senior writer to cover global defence and security. Applicants should send a CV and an original 600-word article, suitable for publication in The Economist, to by March 5th. No journalistic experience is required, but a knowledge of military and geopolitical affairs is essential.

The Economist International News
Feb 08, 2018

The use of banned drugs is rife in sport

SKIERS, skaters, ice hockey players and other snow-loving athletes have travelled to Pyeongchang for this year's Winter Olympics to vie for supremacy. But the South Korean city is also the venue for another contest—one between the bodies responsible for anti-doping rules.

Last year, after tip-offs and suspicious test results in previous events, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned 43 Russian athletes from future Olympic competitions, stripping ten of them of medals they had won in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. In December, after an investigation into drug-screening records leaked by the former head of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, it accused Russia of state-sponsored doping. It barred the country from competing in Pyeongchang, condemning the "systematic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system".

That conspiracy's existence could hardly have come as a surprise to the IOC. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), set up in 1999 to standardise rules across...Continue reading

The Economist International News
Feb 05, 2018

A European court vindicates a fashion designer whose images upset Catholics

THIS week the European Court of Human Rights handed down a verdict which law-and-religion pundits will be pondering for years to come. It vindicated Sekmadienis, a company selling the work of Robert Kalinkin, a Lithuanian fashion designer. The seller had been fined for using images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary which Catholics found offensive.

The case refers to a Kalinkin campaign in 2012 which featured a bare-chested young man and a woman, both with halos: the man was sporting jeans and tattoos, and the female figure wore a white dress with a string of beads. The captions consisted of lines such as: "Jesus, what trousers!", "Dear Mary, what a dress!" and "Jesus, Mary, what are you wearing?"

After receiving some complaints about the images, Lithuania's State Consumer Protection Agency (SPCA) consulted the bishops of the Catholic church, to which nearly 80% of Lithuanians adhere. This led to Sekmadienis being fined 580 euros ($723)...Continue reading

The Economist International News
Feb 02, 2018

In British schools, the wearing of the hijab by young girls is an explosive issue

YESTERDAY was World Hijab Day, an annual event set up by a Bangladeshi-born woman who migrated to New York, Nazma Khan. Ms Khan's aim is to "foster religious tolerance and understanding" by encouraging women who don't normally cover their heads (non-Muslims or non-hijabi Muslim women) to try wearing the garment for just one day.

Despite such efforts, the headscarf remains a matter of controversy in Western societies. In Britain, the question whether young girls should be allowed to wear the hijab at school is emerging as one of the most bitterly divisive issues in debates over the limits of cultural freedom.

All over the Islamic world, the age at which girls start covering their head (usually around the time they hit puberty) has been falling. British Muslims have begun to follow the trend, which has caused pushback among the more secular-minded. At a school in greater London, a head teacher recently tried to ban girls under the age of eight from wearing the hijab. She...Continue reading

The Economist International News
Feb 01, 2018

Going to university is more important than ever for young people

IN A classroom in Seoul a throng of teenagers sit hunched over their desks. In total silence, they flick through a past exam paper. Stacks of brightly coloured textbooks are close to hand. Study begins at 8am and ends at 4.30pm, but some will not go home until 10pm. Like hundreds of thousands of South Koreans, they are preparing for the suneung, the multiple-choice test that will largely determine whether they go to a good university or a bad one, or to university at all.

Over the course of a single generation in South Korea, degrees have become close to ubiquitous. Seventy per cent of pupils who graduate from the country's secondary schools now go straight to university, and a similar share of 25- to 34-year-olds hold degrees, up from 37% in 2000. Students scramble to gain admittance to the most prestigious institutions, with exam preparation starting ever younger. Sought-after private nurseries in Seoul have long waiting lists.

South Korea is an extreme case. But other countries, too, have seen a big...Continue reading

The Economist International News
Jan 29, 2018

How feats of endurance cement social bonds

OVER the next few days, many Tamils will take part in an annual Hindu ceremony that involves amazing endurance. The keenest participants in the Thaipusam festival prepare with days of fasting, prayer and austere living. Then they have their skin pierced by sharp objects, which range from single needles to chunky skewers that pass through both cheeks. They trudge barefoot, or on shoes spiked with nails, to a temple dedicated to the god Murugan. Some carry elaborate bamboo canopies on their shoulders. Others drag chariots which are attached to the hooks that pass through their skin.

This may be an extreme case, but it is by no means the only instance where rites of communal and religious importance are seen as inseparable from pain or risk. During the Shia Muslim commemoration known as Ashura, which mourns the martyrdom of Hussein in the year 680AD, devout men emulate their hero''s fate by whipping themselves into a bloody mess with chains. And in Ireland, even as conventional forms of worship lose traction, there is no shortage of takers for...Continue reading

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