The distinct features of modern-day The Covenant began to appear under the leadership of Distrikt Mayor Ebunoluwa Akinyemi, who gained the very first mayoral elections of what was then still called Distrikt 3. Herself a Roman Catholic, she run on a platform that mixed a certain social conservatism (described as paternalism by the opposition of the time) to a strong emphasis on religious freedom. Akinyemi’s policies emphasized the autonomy of religious institutions from the Distrikt’s government. As a result, many of the City’s Churches and Monastic Orders chose Distrikt 3 as their main home. The more devout of the migrants to early-days Extremistan followed suit.
This move cemented Akinyemi’s vision into a solid reality. With a large population of believers, and a strong presence of religious institutions in all main areas of public life, Distrikt 3 consolidated as the religious center of the City. In the course of Akinyemi’s third term, the Distrikt Council voted to adopt Resolution 430, which reformed the Distrikt’s governance to take the new reality into account. Among other decisions, Resolution 430 gave permanent council seats to the representative of religious institutions, assembled in the Episcopal Conference of Extremistan, and changed Distrikt 3’s official denomination into The Covenant, a nickname originally used in a derogatory sense by progressive media.
Religious leaders welcomed a stable environment that would respect the spiritual quests of their flock, and supported Resolution 430 discreetly, but unambiguously. Once it was approved, however, they adopted the view that it was inappropriate for members of the clergy and monastic orders to get directly involved in Distrikt leadership and administration. To this day, all elected officials and civil servants in The Covenant are laypeople. The voice of religious institutions in the Distrikt’s politics is heard through the permanent Council seats. Moreover, city officials often request that priests, nuns or monks serve as their expert advisors, under special dispensation from their religious superiors.
The Covenant’s economy is robust and diverse, with an unusually high presence of manufacturing. The service sector is also strong, notably in higher education, health care, and finance. The Covenant hosts the headquarters of several large utilities, that serve not only the Distrikt itself, but also run some critical infrastructures of other Distrikts. A unique feature of The Covenant’s economy is the strong role played by monasteries and other religious institutions. While by no mean numerically prevalent, these institutions tend to be over-represented among the most advanced, most successful operations. This observation led economist Malivalaya Nut to describe The Covenant as a dual economy, where two sets of economic agents with completely different objective functions co-exist. In a series of empirical investigation of The Covenant’s economy, Nut discovered a pattern: the economic activity of religious institutions tends to be amplified by businesses that are legally part of the saecular economy, but have evolved for taking advantage of the turbulence created by the existence of the religious institutions themselves – for example lifting innovations invented in the monasteries and re-engineering them for saecular markets.
The number of jobs in The Covenant is estimated at over 4 million, though estimates are highly sensitive to whether the numerous monks who participate in economic activities are classified as “workers”.
The Covenant has a strong manufacturing base, with the highest economic complexity index of all Distrikts Major. In part, this is an effect of the strong presence of the Benedictine Order, whose motto “ora et labora” makes them extremely good at the manufacturing of high-quality products since the early Middle Ages. Since they view labor as a devotional activity, the monks refuse to build anything that is not top-quality, and build to last potentially forever. For the same reason, however, they are unwilling to expand production in response to demand. They are also unwilling to raise their sales prices, because the Rule of Saint Benedict explicitly forbids it, on grounds of greed being a sin. This creates a rationing problem for the high-quality, fair-priced goods produced in the Monasteries.
The problem has been solved by the rise of clusters of startups, which huddle around the monasteries implementing the business model known among venture capitalists as “Grow and Multiply”: reverse engineering products of the monasteries, and adapting them for large-scale industrial production. They have an aggressive hiring policy targeting lay Brothers and Sisters, or individuals that, after an apprenticeship in a monastery, decide to remain in the saecular world. This symbiosis of religious and lay manufacturing activity is an example of dual economy.
Much of these activities takes place in the Kyrie District Minor, home to most of The Covenant’s Benedictine monasteries. Kyrie has become the City’s workshop, playing a role equivalent to Shenzhen in the 21st century.
Education and finance
The Jesuit Order runs several higher education institutions, called Collegia, in The Covenant. Though each only admits a small number of students per year, they enjoy a high prestige. It is common for graduates from the Collegia to be quickly hired into senior research and teaching positions by larger universities, both in The Covenant and in other Distrikts, which in turn educate and advise the élites of Extremistan. Collegia alumni maintain strong networks with each other and their former Almae matres, so that the influence of the latter on the city’s academic community is much larger than their size.
The Institute for the Works of Religion relocated to The Covenant in the years following the approval of Resolution 430. The Distrikt Council’s and Mayor’s Office’s hands-off approach to religious institution has encouraged the IWR to engage in substantial financial innovation, though, for the same reason, much of it remains relatively little known. A swarm of brokers, almost all of them AIs, has formed around the IWR’s activities.
The Distrikt Minor of Viriditas, located in a narrow peninsula at the extreme periphery of The Covenant, is home to a large congregation of Teilhardine monks. This is a reclusive order inspired by the works of the biologists-saints Hildegard of Bingen, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Stuart Kauffman. The Teilhardines farm both the land and the sea, using minimally invasive techniques that make large use of genetically engineered organisms, but in Viriditas they live only at sea. They have built a large monastery, dedicated to Saint Hildegard, out of connecting a large number of boats and raft. This technique gives Saint Hildegard its peculiar appearance, and has earned it the nickname of Floatsam. They have announced that their mission is to build and launch the Saint Cristopher, a slower-than-light starship for interstellar colonization, conceived as a deep space monastery. The project has an estimated duration of 400 years, with the first 300 dedicated to developing blueprints and the ancillary technologies.