— What next? Let’s not speculate, I don’t want a Sunday newspaper
journalist misquoting me as an advocate of witchcraft and who
knows what else in RE. We’ll restrict ourselves to asking, is
there a place for ‘fringe’ religions in RE?
Some teachers would immediately say no, and some West Indian
parents would agree. To mention Rastafarians is to give ganja-smokers
respect! Time is better spent on Christianity or Buddhism — wholesome,
established religions. Anyway, the Rasta cult is patently based
on a lie. An educated person might well realise that two thousand
years ago, this last point was being made against Christianity,
then a fringe religion if ever there was one.
The case for including Rastafarianism might be presented as follows:
Firstly impact. Bob Marley’s records are often
in the charts. Though some Rastafarians may feel that he has
used the cause for material advantage, nevertheless his songs
are almost a theology and pupils who know little about the Rastas
Secondly, there are often Rastafarians in
our schools. To recognise their existence in the syllabus might
be to help them and arouse their interest.
Thirdly, it does inject a new element into
what is normally white Christianity, or something of purely
Fourthly, it is an example of a young, living
and growing religion, a modern movement. Put another way, for
once we can be in at the beginning, rather than studying something
with a long history.
It is also, fifthly, an example of religion
as a need-response. It is providing blacks with a sense of identity
and a hope.
In this sense, sixthly, it can be studied
as an example of ‘messianism’, for the Rastafarians seek a new
era in a new land. It also poses the question, why are people,
especially blacks, alienated from Christianity?
Finally, its inclusion in the syllabus is
a means of providing non-members of the religion with accurate
Is Rastafarianism a religion? That need not only occasion a letter
to the editor, it can be the sub-title of a secondary school topic
— What is religion? Rastafarianism can be examined in the process
of answering this question.
At the beginning of this short piece I asked what place should
be given to ‘fringe’ religions. The term is often used in a derogatory
sense and the Rastafarians, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the
Mormons raise questions which take us into discussions about openness
and the criteria by which we determine the parameters of religious
studies. If there are thirty Rastafarians and scarcely any Asians
in a school, but the RE comprises Christianity, Hinduism and Islam,
the Rastas can be forgiven for concluding that this is just another
example of oppression by Babylon.