Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Back to school with New Humanist: September issue out 23 August

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

If it's seemed a little quiet on the blog lately, that's because we've been hard at work producing the September/October issue of the magazine, which hits the streets next Thursday, 23 August. Thanks to a combination of grit, determination and people doing their jobs, it was signed off last night, so I thought I'd give you a preview of what's in store.

With summer sadly nearing its end, one of the themes of the new issue is education: as universities prepare to open their doors for the new year, we talk to the Master of an establishment that will – controversially – be enrolling students for the very first time.

When the prominent humanist philosopher AC Grayling announced his plan to open a private, £18,000-a-year university – the New College of the Humanities – in June 2011, he quickly became the target of protests by student activists who were already outraged by the government's decision to raise public university fees to as much as £9,000 per year. Grayling was slammed in the media for betraying public education, and he took the decision to step aside as the British Humanist Association's incoming president due to the distraction of the protests.

Fast forward one year, and the New College project is very much on track, with academic staff on board (supplemented by some star names like Niall Ferguson, Linda Colley and Steven Pinker) and  students due to arrive at its Bloomsbury home in the autumn. Having been critical of Grayling's project last year, we decided to speak to the philosopher to put some of the tough questions and hear his side of the story – editor Caspar Melville went to meet him, and found Grayling in combative mood, ready to take on accusations that his college will help to entrench privilege in the British education system.

Is Grayling saving our universities, or killing them? Read the September issue of New Humanist to see what he has to say.

Elsewhere in the new issue, another theme that has emerged concerns religion and human rights. Where should we draw the line when religious freedom appears to tread on the rights of individuals? One open-and-shut case is forced marriage. The Home Office deals with more than 100 such cases per month and, as Sarah Ditum highlights in her excellent and shocking investigation, forcing someone to marry against their will is a form of domestic violence, and it must be stopped.

An issue that's less clear is circumcision – is it a dangerous abuse, or a harmless cultural signifier? We have a great piece on the debate by Toby Lichtig, who draws on the experience of discussing it within his own secular Jewish family to ask whether it's time the practice was outlawed.

And to complete our look at the clash between rights and religion, the Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, Raymond Tallis, puts forward a powerful argument for why a small but vocal minority must no longer be allowed to inflict untold suffering on the terminally ill in the name of their religion.

Also in the September issue, James Gray goes through the wardrobe and pays a visit to the New Age enclave of Totnes, where amid the healers and homeopaths he meets the sceptics mounting a rational fightback.

Plus, if everything so far sounds like it's too firmly on the side of atheism and reason, we invite Francis Spufford, author of the forthcoming book Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, to tell the godless why they need to admit that they might just be wrong. (We look forward to throwing this one open to online debate in a couple of weeks!)

Oh, and if all this great content isn't enough, we've prepared you all a gift – a free double-sided back-to-college poster. On one side we have advice from some of our friends, including Philip Pullman, AL Kennedy, Ben Goldacre and Iain Banks, on what they learnt at university, while on the other Martin Rowson depicts the moment a fresher unpacks her belongings, and receives her first visits from the various student faith groups.

The magazine hits the newsstands next Thursday, 23 August, but to make life easier why not subscribe for just £27 per year?

Alternatively, you could subscribe to our fantastic iPad/iPhone app via Exact editions - you can download the app and preview it for free, then subscribe for just £1.99 a month or £9.99 a year if you like what you see. For non-Apple users, there's also our web subscription, which includes access to an Android app.
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