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A Sociological View of Rastafarianism

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Organized religion is a duality between the religion and the church which represents it. Sometimes the representation of the religion is marred and flawed to those who view it because of the bureaucracy contained within. Unknown to those who gaze upon the dissolved morals and values of what is perceived to be the contradiction known as modern religion, it was never intended to be this way. Most religions started off as a sect, a minor detail on the fringes of the society it never wanted to represent. Rastfarianism is such a sect. The differences between Rastafarianism and a normal "mainstream" religion are numberless, including: no set membership, no authoritative leader, no offices of authority, no trained clergy and no involvement with the world as a whole. Rastafarianism is based upon an underrepresented minority which needed hope in the face in utter demise.

According to Max Weber, religion emerges to satisfy a social need. "In treating suffering as a symptom of odiousness in the eyes of gods and as a sign of secret guilt, religion has psychologically met a very general need (Weber 271). Rastafarianism emerges in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica in the 1930's to meet the needs of the poor, unskilled black Jamaicans who needed a hope. The social situation which was emerging in the 1930's which called for this need was as follows. Jamaica was a commonwealth of the British Empire. It had recently, around 1884, received a write in clause to their constitution which stipulated if the new government did not succeed and the economic life of Jamaica were to suffer because of it, the political constitution would be amended or abolished to meet new conditions. Black Jamaicans had a taste for power in their mouths and in 1938, this erupted in labor riots and violence. This act did nothing for their cause. It would still be 30 years until Jamaica received its independence. Blacks in Jamaica were the victims of social stratification which left them at the bottom rung of the ladder. They had menial jobs such as field worker or an attendant at the sugar plant, if they had jobs at all. The blacks were suffering as a people and as an organized group.

Ethopianism had been introduced to Jamaica in 1784 by George Liele, by adding it to the name of his Baptist church, hoping to graft itself onto the African religion of Jamaican slaves. But the movement to embody the Ethiopian ideology par excellence was the Back to Africa movement of Marcus Garvey (Barret 76). He saw African civilization as anterior to all others and used bible verses which were easily interpretable to portray Africans as the chosen people mentioned in the bible, as in Psalm 68: "Princes shall come out if Egypt and Ethiopia shall stretch forth his hands onto God" (Barret 78). Garvey's persistence culminated in the crowning of Ras Tafari as Negus of Ethiopia. He took the name Haile Selassie and added "King of Kings" and the "Lion in the Tribe of Judah", placing himself in the legendary line of King Soloman, and therefore, in the same line as Jesus Christ of Roman Catholicism. Out of this came Rastafarianism which took over Jamaica at a time when it was "in a low tide economically and socially. Socially, people experienced the brunt of the Depression as well as disaster due to a devastating hurricane. Politically, colonialism gripped the country and the future of the masses looked hopeless. Any doctrine which that promised a better hope and a better day was ripe for hearing" (Barret 84).

Weber analyzed conditions such as these as a theodicy of suffering. "One can explain suffering and injustice by refrying to individual sin committed in former life, to the guilt of ancestors . . . to the wickedness of all people. As compensatory promised one can refer to hopes of the individual for a better life in the future of this world or to the for the successors, or to a better life in the hereafter" (Weber 275). In other words, those who are disadvantaged in a situation (the poor, hopeless, black Jamaicans) will be rewarded. "The poor people have a decided advantage in the Rastas' view, since they are forced to look into themselves and confront the basic reality of human existence - and only there can God be found" (Owens 173) Their negative situation will be turned into a positive one (transvaluation) because they are the truly righteous, or so they believed. Rastafarianism was more than a religion to the people of Jamaica, it was a hope. It was their escape from the the rational everyday world. This theodicy of suffering, in which the underprivileged and underrepresented Jamaicans believed, was compensation for the deplorable state in which they found themselves.

The Rastafarian way of living and their everyday activities began as a deviant social behavior, but rather was a routinization of the masses into one cohesive unit, following the same general creed under different principles. This point can be seen most specifically in the modern Rastafarian hairstyles. In "traditional Rastafarianism" most Rastas do not cut their hair but allow it to grow naturally long matted strands or locks. These locks are in accordance with the Leviticus 21:5: They shall not make baldness upon their head (Johnson-Hill 25). But in today's Rastafarianism, their are men who will not grow facial hair or locks in accordance to their position in the work place and in society, but still believe in the faith of and consider themselves a part of the Rastafarian religion. This process of electing points on a subject in which a followers ideas converge with is called elective affinity, as coined by Max Weber. This elective affinity concerning Rastafarianism was spurred by charismatic prophets of the belief system such as Marcus Garvey, Haile Selassie, and Samuel Brown. All of these men preached to the negatively privileged strata which existed in the Jamaican slums and the impoverished Jamaican parishes.

The underprivileged strata became a status group in a sociological point of view when they selected Rastafarianism and Haile Selassie as their god. This annunciation and promise led these impoverished blacks into a status group known as Rastafarians. This elective affinity between underprivileged Jamaicans and Rastafarians was seen most directly in a change in diet to follow "Kosher" food laws, a change in hair style, the use of a different language, and a the use of a holy weed; ganja. These highly visible symbols served as a solidification of a person's elective affinity and a public statement of their beliefs. To become a member of the Rastafarian status group was to embrace the lifestyle and the conceptual livity of a personal relationship with nature, in a pure organic way (Johnson-Hill 25).

The Rastafarian lifestyle, at its early core, was based upon responses to social

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